Raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., Kiino graduated from Amherst College in the mid-'90s with a degree in geology. Though she worked as an environmental geologist in Chicago and Boston, truth is, she was fixing for a job in the kitchen -- even, as it turns out, a job with no paycheck attached. In 1997, Kiino went to work as an unpaid volunteer at East Coast Grill, Chris Schlesinger's fire-happy New American place in Cambridge, Mass.
A year later, she moved to San Francisco and found work at LuLu. In '99, she moved up Delfina, Craig Stoll's mashup of Northern Italian culinary gestures and Chez Panisse sourcing. Kiino eventually became chef de cuisine. While there, he stage'd at Da Delfina and Da Caino, Tuscan restaurants that are actually, like, in Tuscany. By 2007, she'd left Delfina, kicked around a bit at Boulette's Larder, Rubicon, the French Laundry, and Patterson's Coi. Il Cane Rosso opened in July -- the name comes from Kiino's red-brown dog, a three-legged rescue mutt named Cody. In our Q & A with Kiino, she talks about her passion for pickling, argues that music in the kitchen is a mistake, and suggests why the cupcake trend might be way past stale.
SFoodie: What definitive moment made you realize you had to be in the kitchen?
Kiino: I think it was my first real restaurant job working at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Mass. More than a single moment, I realized over the course of a couple months that I loved being part of a fast-moving, well trained kitchen, looking out to our customers eating the food that we had just cooked. It was a really amazing experience to make a plate of food and then have an immediate and direct connection to someone eating it. I loved the fact that I was able to make the same dish over and over, and each time was a chance to make it better.
Flavors, ingredients, or techniques you have an irrational attachment to?
For technique, it's canning summer vegetables and fruit. This year I've made rhubarb compote, blackberry and raspberry preserves, blackberry syrup, tomato sauce, whole plum tomatoes, damson plum preserves, and red-wine pickled prune plums. We're going to use them at Cane Rosso and Bracina this winter. As for flavors and ingredients: any kind of fresh or fermented pickle. I made some red cabbage, fennel, onion, and caraway sauerkraut at home that's been great on grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.
Most overrated ingredient in S.F?
Haven't found an heirloom tomato I've been in love with yet ...
Favorite food trend in S.F.?
Restaurants that have good cocktail lists and good bartenders. I love having a well-made cocktail before dinner. It just seems like a very civilized way to eat, and a balanced, dry cocktail is a delicious aperitif.
Most overrated food trend in S.F.?
Not many things bother me, and for me I'm pretty forgiving, especially if someone else is cooking for me. Plus I think more people doing different things is going to make us all better in the long run. That said, maybe cupcakes?? I love the idea, love the way they look, but somehow the way they taste doesn't always to live up to their cuteness.
Biggest screw-up in the kitchen?
After working the pantry station for a couple months at the East Coast Grill, I felt sure that I was ready to move to the hot line because making salads and plating desserts was somehow beneath me. What I didn't realize is that the sauté cook was very skilled at his job and he just made it look easy -- so my first night on the sauté station I totally went down in a big way. Luckily the sauté guy training me jumped right in and bailed me out. That left me with a healthy dose of humility!
Favorite off-night restaurant?
Range -- I can walk there, sit at the bar, have a great drink, eat some tasty vittles, and always enjoy dessert!
Chef from another genre or cooking style who inspires you?
Thomas Keller, because of the clarity of his vision, focus, technique, precision, and ambition. And Daniel Patterson, because he cooks directly from his experience and his food tells a story. His dishes are extremely inventive, but at the same time they make sense and are some of the most memorable things I have eaten. Also the amount of discipline he has in order to source his ingredients is pretty phenomenal.
Guiltiest food pleasure?
Fried egg sandwiches made in a cast iron pan -- with gooey cheese, ham, and butter!
Favorite music to cook by?
Usually I prefer not to have music in the kitchen. I tend to block it out anyway, and I find it kind of annoying to have to talk over music while we're working.
What show would you pitch to Food Network?
Maybe something that explains in detail the difference between pastured, organic, conventional? And something that explains why organic and pastured techniques are so much more labor-intensive, and therefore more expensive. And also explain how people living in other parts of the country could find local ingredients produced with integrity. Compared to the rest of the country, it's pretty easy for us here in the Bay Area to be locavores. It would be great to see how people could source locally produced ingredients in Ohio or Alabama or Arizona.
Celebrity chef who should shut the hell up?
I watched about two minutes of Hell's Kitchen once. I know Gordon Ramsay comes from a long line of kitchen yellers, but I don't really know if it makes good entertainment.
Favorite food city?
San Francisco. Love our farmers' markets and access to local ingredients. New York, just for the sheer breadth of restaurants, eateries, and bars. Also love the fact that every time I go to visit there are about a million new places to check out. And Rome -- just because they are so confident in their cuisine and ingredients, yet nothing is taken for granted, and good cooking is appreciated by everyone there. Their food is the real deal.
Headline photo via muirwood/Flickr