Chef-owner Joshua Skenes keeps San Francisco restaurant favorite Saison on the cutting edge of cuisine. Consistently sourcing rare, fresh ingredients with a reverence for their origin, Skenes uses primitive techniques such as ember and ash cooking to utilize ingredients to their fullest potential. Skenes’ methods at Saison are inspired by his childhood love for camping and cooking over an open fire, and it was only a matter of time before San Francisco Magazine named him Best Chef 2011 – a title that immediately caught the eyes of Saveur and Food & Wine. He was soon named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2011, and has since revamped Saison, making it an 18-seat space with a new, pre-paid reservation system. The exclusivity is quite irresistible. And with two Michelin stars under its belt, there’s no reason for Skenes’ Saison to be anything other than exclusive, which is why we sat down with this chef for an inside look…
What’s different about your food?
The sensibility of the food as a whole. The way we cook with fire, the restraint, the layers, the purity, and the balance.
Are you constantly making changes? How so?
Every day. Every hour. Everything we do must be better than the last time.
What’s special about your menu?
It’s a progression. It’s comprised of different parts that make the whole special. You may start with a wood sorrel soda to wake your taste buds, then go into a soothing warm bouillon made from wild seaweeds and grilled little dried fish. It’s designed to reset your tastes and prepare you for the coming raw courses that are very subtle.
Your go-to recipe when cooking outside the restaurant for family and friends…
Spontaneity is the best ingredient for a recipe.
Can you share some menu favorites from Saison?
It changes often…At the moment it is a blue fin sea robin that’s cured in wild seaweeds. Then we sear the skin with an ember to tenderize it and bring the fire into the dish. It’s accompanied by onion escabeche and anise hyssop.
You’re highly concentrated on how one deals with ingredients. Which ingredient do you consider overrated? Which are you convinced makes everything better?
I love bacon as much as the next person, but stop putting it in everything. It’s a crutch.
Care; real care and understanding for our ingredients makes everything better.
If you’re going to eat out in San Francisco, besides at your own restaurant, where do you go?
What are your other favorite cities to travel for food?
Beijing and Tokyo.