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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Meet the Bloggers: Lou Bustamante

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 4:58 PM

click to enlarge Lou Bustamante. - T. SHANE GILMAN
  • T. Shane Gilman
  • Lou Bustamante.

You read them here, now find out who in the hell they are: We give you the diverse group of men and women who cover the local food and drink scene for you on SFoodie.

Name: Lou Bustamante

Beat: Spirits and cocktails

Lou is a man about town. He's friendly with many of San Francisco's "it" bartenders, chefs, and general glitterati. His resumé boasts stints at Cowgirl Creamery, La Farine Bakery, and St. George Distillery. His savvy about the city's complex, ever-evolving cocktail scene is bested only by his well-culled knowledge of food and spirits. To me, the new kid on the block, Lou's street cred was a little unnerving. I needn't have worried ― it took five minutes to realize he's an easy-mannered, approachable chap, the consummate "guy you want to get a beer with" (or in our case, Pimm's Cup and pork sliders).

Shored up from the North Beach lights at dim and stylish 15 Romolo, I shared some QT with this former graphic designer and learned all about his long road to SFoodie. By the time Lou had to catch his ferry to Vallejo, there remained hours of untold stories.

Jesse: How did you first get into spirits?

Lou: Years ago, I was one of those punks who drinks to get drunk and wasn't really concerned what I was drinking. As I grew up, I really wanted to get into wine but my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) didn't enjoy drinking wine. Cracking open a full bottle of wine meant drinking the full bottle, which I just wasn't prepared to do. Then a friend of mine who was really into bourbon said, "Oh, you should try this." Soon enough, I had started a small bourbon collection.

When did you first turn your love of food and drink into a paid gig?

I was part of the whole "dot-bomb" phenomenon. When that bubble burst, I could have kept trying to scratch out a living in the software field, bouncing from lily pad to sinking lily pad; this was not appealing. I figured that if I was going to be miserable and poor, I might as well pursue something that I love ― food.

When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a mad scientist; nobody had the heart to tell me it wasn't a real job. As I got older, working with food was the closest I could get. In particular things like ice cream and baking seem a lot like alchemy. I had always been a big home cook and baker but I wanted to learn more. I'm a very curious person.

What was your first step?

I got a part-time job selling produce at the old Ferry Building farmers' market, back when it was between Green Street and Broadway. Michael Recchiuti would pull up and sell chocolate from his van, June Taylor was next to him. Alice Waters would shop there all the time. It was a very different time then, very chill, before the Food Network changed the landscape.

Missing the good old days?

I wouldn't say that. I think it's great how many people truly care about their food and their drink now. How can it be a bad thing to have a more informed public? Between the Food Network, and Alice Waters, and Bourdain ... they're opposites, but they're all pushing the culinary landscape in their own way.

I hear you also worked at Cowgirl Creamery.

Man, my story is so complicated. [Laughs] Yeah, I worked at Cowgirl for a while. That was a very cool gig; I was a certified pasteurizer! I also worked at La Farine in Oakland, getting up at 2 a.m. to bake the bread. I loved the work but those hours were brutal. And I spent some time as a line cook at the old Gordon's before it closed.

Tell me about one of your favorite meals.

About 10 years ago, I had just started at the farmers' market but most of my income came from unemployment. My wife was pursuing an art career so we were essentially trying our hardest to be poor. One night, we managed to get ourselves into the French Laundry for a meal. It was a huge splurge, and we both spent our unemployment checks. We rented a maroon sedan and I bought a $3 jacket from Goodwill in the Upper Haight. It felt like prom! The whole experience was a thrill: Keller was in the kitchen, and there was this huge, epic thunderstorm over Napa. It was very dramatic, an incredible night.

New York refugee Jesse Hirsch tweets at @Jesse_Hirsch. Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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Jesse Hirsch

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