San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema is an eclectic mix of food, art and culture. At the helm are Bay area dining legends Gayle Pirie and John Clark, both veterans of the industry. In 2001 Pirie and Clark took over Foreign Cinema’s kitchen, where they initiated a California-Mediterranean inspired menu. Now, the menu changes daily, resulting in a diversified and exciting venue. Pirie and Clark emphasize film and art just as much as they do food, screening foreign and independent films in the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard, as well as collaborating with Modernism West (an art gallery in collaboration with Martin Mueller) on private dining and showings. The two also reign over mid-market theater district favorite – Show Dogs – a restaurant that has revitalized the area, bringing it back to its former glory. These two have proved they see dining as an experience rather than just an execution of cuisine, making them restaurateurs The New Potato couldn’t resist covering.
Describe your ideal food day…
John: A day without food is my ideal food day! By the end of the week I’ve had enough!
What’s your drink?
Gayle: An epic Sancerre, with full minerality, medium acidity, and the frivolity of apricot blossoms – My drink at Foreign Cinema. For harder drinks, I am quite partial to the Old Way Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s, the Scotch “fizz” at Locanda, or The Song Remains the Same at Foreign Cinema—a signature blend of aged Scotch, Cherry Heering, a drop of lemon infused honey, with a scent of orange. Very soothing, straight to the brain.
John: “Manhattan” or a “Blood and Sand.”
What would your last meal be?
Gayle: Foreign Cinema’s Brandade, Fried Washington Oysters, Kale Caesar with Radishes, Piave, Croutons.
John: Can’t answer that one…
How do you start your day?
Gayle: Packing lunch for Pearl (my daughter). Making breakfast for Magnus (my son). School taxi. Four barrel coffee, hopefully the gym by 11:00am.
John: Making breakfast for our children, coffee, off to school, on the phone with our forager.
Favorite place to travel for food?
Gayle: Niloufer Ichaporia’s house for anything she wants to cook. Niloufer is a cookbook writer here in San Francisco and provides inspiration on many levels.
John: New York is always inspiring to me.
What ingredient do you consider overrated?
Gayle: Sweet breads
John: Foie Gras
What ingredient are you convinced makes everything better?
Gayle: Sea salt
Your afternoon snack…
Gayle: Chocolate protein drink
John: A cup of coffee
What’s always in your fridge?
Gayle: Jarlsberg cheese – our thirteen year old son’s emergency calorie must. Tofu – our six year old’s emergency go to. Apples, and Tina’s pickled herring to accompany the aquavit in the freezer, of course.
John: Capers, anchovies, and olives.
Favorite night of the week, and why?
Gayle: I like Friday nights at 11:30pm (The family has eaten a delicious rotisserie chicken dinner while I am at Foreign Cinema). I’m usually home by then from FC. There is no homework, my little girl is fast asleep, and the boy watches late night TV with mum and dad. We actually have to tell him to sleep in!
John: Monday. Quiet night at home.
What’s not a “thing” in San Francisco food yet, that should be?
Gayle: Show Dog’s 49er Corn Dog!
John: Perfect Turkey breast
What are your vices?
Gayle: Buttered popcorn, Duck and pork cracklings, and Celebrity Apprentice.
John: Peanut M&M’s and my cars.
Your go-to recipe when eating in…
Gayle: Pasta Carbonara
John: Lately, boiled chicken, and veggies; the broth restores and the kids eat it.
Take me through a typical night…
Gayle: We split our work days so when I am at home it is like this: Starts around 3:00pm ish. Afterschool pick-ups, music lesson, snacks, finding homework strategies, possible tutor management, dinner planning (ugh!), clean up, baths and showers, reading, bedtimes, watch late news with white wine.
John: The menu is written by 1pm; sous chefs arrive; we meet; samples are presented starting around 5pm. The door opens at 5:30. First orders are out of the kitchen around 6:15. Usually there is a private event of twenty-thirty guests. By 7:30 there should be around eighty-one hundred and twenty guests seated. I work the outside of the line until around 9:30-10:45, depending on how busy things are.
And most importantly, how do you feel about new potatoes?
Gayle: Humble and respectful. New potatoes are good to find.
John: I imagine you are referring to Little Red creamer potatoes? Or do you mean any fresh, right out of the ground, potatoes? For the little red creamer potatoes – I don’t really like them and don’t really use them but if I did I would serve them with butter and chopped parsley. If you are referring to all those other fresh out of the ground types then I prefer French Rose fingerlings roasted and peeled then grilled and eaten.