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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sous Chefs Take Center Stage at Marla Bakery's "Sousdays"

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge Mint chocolate chunk ice cream sandwiches and watermelon popsicles - ALEXIS KATSILOMETES
  • Alexis Katsilometes
  • Mint chocolate chunk ice cream sandwiches and watermelon popsicles

We live in a weirdly beautiful age in which hearts beat as quickly at the thought of seeing David Chang or René Redzepi as they do about spotting one of the Kardashians. All right, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get what I mean. It’s the heyday of the celebrity chef. But when we say “chef,” what oftentimes comes to mind is the name whose name is at the bottom of the menu or the bleached-blonde Food Network star who patronizes places based on his producer’s love of alliteration.

At the risk of being the shatter-er of dreams, I will go out on a not-so-long-limb and tell you that the big name chef isn’t always one actually cooking your food. Yes, that's correct; there’s a very good chance that your steak reached a perfect medium rare and your frites were crisped to a beautiful golden brown by the sous chef(s).

click to enlarge The feast - ALEXIS KATSILOMETES
  • Alexis Katsilometes
  • The feast
The direct translation of “sous” is “under,” but perhaps that’s not the most accurate representation of the jobs they do. Oftentimes, the sous chefs are last to leave the restaurant (long after the “real chef” has gone home for the night); they are the ones who place the orders and unclog the bar drain, or who go elbow-deep in greasy, gray water after some dumbass intern accidentally drops a hotel pan of duck fat. It’s not a glamorous job, or one for the faint of heart. It requires skill, dedication, and an admirable amount of passion for the — frequently unrelenting — craft they have chosen. So respect the sous.

This past Tuesday, the sous chefs of Nopa took over Marla Bakery’s Outer Richmond kitchen for the second in the “Sousday” series of dinners. A $45 ticket (or $65 with unlimited beverages) got you a seat at the communal table to sample the picnic-themed menu from chefs Melissa McGrath, Stephen Call, and Anna Lee (Nopa's former pasty chef). On perhaps one of the only fog-free summer days 37th and Balboa will get, guests sipped rosé in the fairy-tale-like herb garden while snacking on dill-y deviled eggs, garlicky dill pickles, and house-made cheddar crackers (think the best Cheez-It you ever tasted) alongside tomato jam and spinach dip. Platters of perfect watermelon were set out, and you couldn’t help but fantasize: What if all San Francisco “summer” nights were like this?

As the sun set and the smells of the wood-fired oven permeated the air, we made our way inside to find a seat at the long wooden table. Servers circulated with endless rosé and the chefs began to plate what can inarguably be deemed a feast: blistered pardon peppers, spicy and ginger-laced Korean kimchi, a bean salad with tomatoes and basil, plus the kind of potato salad you wish your mother would make. But nothing beat the smoked brisket and fermented pepper sausages, slathered with whole grain mustard and stuffed into everything pretzel rolls and Hawaiian rolls so pillowy and sweet, they would make anyone forget all about King’s.

For dessert, people devoured the platters of mint chocolate chunk ice cream sandwiches and watermelon popsicles with alarming speed. As much as people vowed not to be able to eat one more bite, bowls of nectarine and blackberry cobbler with freshly whipped cream made their way from the kitchen. Still warm from the oven and perfectly balanced in sweetness, it made even the fullest of us repeatedly dip a spoon into the bowl until it only a faint hint of purple remained.

I left that evening full, maybe a tad uncomfortably so, but damn euphoric. The food was beyond solid, the atmosphere was unmatched, and the weather didn’t hurt either; but more than that, it was a rare opportunity to see a group of intensely talented people create their menu and cook their food. The date of the next Sousday is still to be determined, but unless you have a standing dinner date with one of those Kardashian people, go

Marla Bakery
, 3619 Balboa, 415-742-4379.

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Alexis Katsilometes


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