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Friday, July 31, 2009

New Chef at Broken Record Not So New

Posted By on Fri, Jul 31, 2009 at 1:56 PM

James Moisey/Twitter
James Moisey (left)

It's been three weeks since the Frito pie hit the fan at the Broken Record (1166 Geneva at Edinburgh): chefs Ryan Ostler and Katharine Zacher got the hell out, citing burnout in interviews. And even though Tablehopper reported that a new chef would be reopening the kitchen July 18th, a fog heavier than any summer marine layer seemed to hang over the Excelsior. The BR was done.


Except it wasn't. This morning SFoodie had a phone chat with James Moisey, new chef at the Broken Record. Only he's not so new. The 27-year-old has cooked at the BR since last spring, originally helping out while still sous chef of Firefly, where he'd worked with Zacher, its former pastry chef. He started out as a sort of friend-consultant, helping Zacher and Ostler streamline the somewhat challenged kitchen space in order to hike capacity. Even introduced a number of his own recipes, like the mac and cheese and shrimp roll SF Weekly critic Matt Stafford loved.

The way the BR's kitchen operates is unusual. To keep his bar license, owner Jason King must serve food. But, reluctant to run the kitchen himself, he contracts it out to what are, in essence, chef-proprietors. Moisey said Ostler and Zacher were operating under a six-month lease that expired in late spring -- they continued on for about a month after that. Which makes their departure seem less surprising.

"There was a lot of press about Ryan and Katharine leaving," Moisey said. "A lot of people had the impression we were closed." Business has been painfully slow, he said, but started to pick up last week.

The chef is working under his own lease at the BR, which involves prepping food for King's other bar, Church Key (1402 Grant at Green). He seems dead serious about his role as indie kitchen proprietor. (Moisey and would-be restaurant partner Jan-Henry Gray, who cooks at Canteen and The Sentinel, had been scoping sites for their own place starting in May of last year; then, when the economy tanked, it killed their ownership plans, too.) Moisey said he's sunk nearly $4,000 of his own funds into kitchen upgrades at the BR, including boosting refrigeration capacity -- a contributing factor in the former chefs' burnout, since they couldn't hold enough prepped food to get ahead of demand.

And what about Moisey's food? The chef said he's turning the Broken Record into a scratch kitchen: making all sausages in house (the previous chefs sourced them), grinding meats for burgers and meatballs, churning ice cream. Originally from Philadelphia, Moisey says the style is "upscale trashy cuisine," only with more of an emphasis on seasonal food. Heirloom tomato Texas toast he describes as bruschetta-like ("I have an unbelievable guy baking my bread," he said), Brentwood corn, onion rings from scratch, buttermilk biscuits with country gravy made from chicken feet and pork leg. He's pulling 16-, sometimes 18-hour days, starting with a multiple-hour trawl through shops and farmers' markets.

But he's not without help in the kitchen: ex-Firefly cook Shane Lavalley and Alex Tremblay, who's worked at Aziza. Moisey said he's gotten help with dessert concepts, too, from Firefly pastry chef Debbie Hughes and her counterpart at Foreign Cinema, Majkin Klare. Gray, too, lends occasional help.

Moisey strikes you as the kind of chef who doesn't take shortcuts. "Sundays we started doing burgers," he said. "I get the chuck in on Saturday, I cut it up and season it, and then I trim off all the fat. When I grind it up the next day I do bacon fat to replace the beef fat -- my goal was to make the best burger in San Francisco. It's just incredible." Something tells us he's right.

The Broken Record serves food every night (the Web site erroneously lists it as closed Sundays), 6-11 p.m.

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