On the Town

SF CHEFS 2011: August 1-7

Martin Cate of Smuggler's Cove pours tiki cocktails at 2010 SF Chefs (Friday night event)

It’s SF Chefs, year three. I’ve covered the last two years here and in my Guardian column. For those of you who have not yet been, this has really become San Francisco’s biggest food/drink showcase (our “food & wine classic”, if you will), utilizing much of the Bay Area’s best talent. SF Chefs takes over all of Union Square, which stays tented for the week, with events, classes, grand tastings, nightly parties.

Chef Hubert Keller serves Fleur de Lys bites in the Grand Tasting Tent, 2010

There’s something inherently magical about tented Union Square as cable cars glide by and tourists wonder what kind of fun is happening inside. After hours of tastings and music in Union Square, one walks to afterparties atop the Westin or other nearby locales, taking in city lights until the wee hours with dancing and, yes, more impeccable food and drink.

But with a week full of events, how does one begin to choose what to attend? I have been to most days every year and have some specific advice on what to make sure you don’t miss, depending on your preferences. Oh, and don’t forget to allow your stomach some recovery time.


Stunning ice used in cocktails at last year's SF Chefs

Don’t miss Friday night’s Opening Celebration & Grand Tasting (6:30-10pm). Sure, the chef line-up is impressive. Everyone from Michael Mina to Tyler Florence will be there serving creative tastes of their food. It’s more than one can eat, especially if you attempt to sample from the over 35 chefs who’ll be there.

Cocktails at last year's Sugar & Spice Party

On the cocktail front, you’ll work double-time to keep up with the amazing bartenders and bars represented as they shake up special event cocktails. There’s fine bartenders at many SF Chefs events, but Friday night particularly showcases a larger number of our city’s best bars in one place.

There’s also plenty of wine, beer and spirits. You won’t suffer from choices. Chef Joey Altman and The Soul Peppers provide the live blues backdrop. Oh, did I mention that all tastes are unlimited with price of admission? That way you can keep going back for your favorites.


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Chef & DJ extraordinaire, Hubert Keller

Saturday night is another big shindig in Union Square, Decadence After Dark (7-10:30pm), with over 35 chefs, plus spirits, wine, beer, cocktails – again, all unlimited. There will be dancing along with eats from chefs like David Bazirgan of Fifth Floor and Thomas McNaughton of flour + water.

Chef Michael Mina shares his food in the 2010 Grand Tasting Tent

But don’t miss the after parties. Friday night’s mayhem happens 10pm-1am in private rooms at the City Club. With sponsors like Cigar Aficionado and Wente Vineyards, there’s cigars given out and Wente wines flowing along with cocktails, beer, chocolates, coffee, caviar, oysters, and desserts from Pastry Chef Leena Hung (The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards). Best of all the man who does it all Hubert Keller, is at the turntable.

2010 ribbon-cutting ceremony before Friday night's opening party

Saturday night offers a second afterparty option, this one hosted by Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais and SF-based Skyy Spirits, whose portfolio (including beloved classics Campari and Wild Turkey, and the delightful  Espolon Tequila). Chef Blais heads up a team of former Top Chef contestants (Fabio Viviani, Jen Biesty, Marisa Churchill, Mattin Noblia, Ryan Scott) for bites to go with cocktail creations by the Bon Vivants. There’s even more food from Dennis Lee (Namu) and Ryan Farr (4505 Meats) and music from DJ Hot Pocket and DJ Dojah so you can dance it off.


1300 on Fillmore's blue cheese grits from Chef David Lawrence in last year's Grand Tasting Tent

There’s individual classes during the week, but for a full feast, too, hit up the Grand Tasting Tent all afternoon Saturday or Sunday in Union Square. Both days each feature food from over 30 big-name chefs, like Hubert Keller and Elizabeth Falkner. But there’s also ongoing demos from chefs like Martin Yan, NY’s Cesare Casella, Fabio Viviani, and Gary Danko, while cocktail experts such as H. Joseph Ehrmann and Charlotte Voisey school you on spirits and cocktails. Watch for a Negroni cart where top bartenders will mix you a classic Negroni, a Sbagliato (basically a sparkling Negroni… with prosecco), or a Negroni variation of your choice (even better, Campari is donating $200 per hour the cart is in operation to support USBG’s Bartenders Relief Fund).


Mourad Lahlou's brilliant egg dish at last year's Sugar & Spice party

Choose from an array of classes, demos and meals taking place in the Westin with a more intimate focus than you’ll get in bustling Union Square during the Grand Tasting Tent and evening parties. You could watch Chris Cosentino (Incanto) and Elizabeth Falkner (Citizen Cake & Orson) take on Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn) and Russell Jackson (Lafitte) in a chef’s challenge. Maybe you want to attend a demo with Tyler Florence, a bartender’s cocktail breakfast, a Wine Spectator Pinot Noir panel, Secrets of the Sommeliers with Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, or family cooking demo led by chefs Michael Mina, Craig Stoll (Delfina), and Gerald Hirigoyen (Piperade) and their kids.

Lahlou's memorable charmoula egg w/ potato foam

A winning night last year was Thursday’s Sugar & Spice Party. Smaller than Union Square events, tastes cover palate extremes, while cocktails from key bartenders and local wineries are featured. The line-up is strong (including Hoss Zaré of Zaré at Flytrap and Mourad Lahlou of Aziza), but it’s manageable and memorable in the stunning mezzanine ballroom of the Westin.