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From San Francisco:

Gary Danko

Ingredients, Influences and Opera

by Susan Dyer Reynolds

For nearly a decade, Gary Danko has been dazzling San Franciscans with style, ambience and the comforts of home cooked cuisine. His namesake restaurant has received Gayot’s Top 40 Restaurants in the United States award for three years in a row and remains among the highest rated with an 18/20. The Bay Area’s most acclaimed chef and mastermind behind the establishment that has what many consider the best service in the city recently sat down with The Food Paper’s Susan Reynolds for some gastronomical gabbing.

The Food Paper: Who or what was your biggest cooking influence?
Gary Danko: The three Ms—Mom, Mabel and Madeleine. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom as a kid, and Mabel was the chef at this country inn where I was a hatcheck boy when I was 12 years old. She was doing really high-quality country cooking even then. And, of course Madeleine Kamman. Her book The Making of a Cook was a huge inspiration, and even though I got my formal training at the CIA, I became the cook I am today because of studying with Madeleine.

TFP: Why did you become a chef?
GD: I love to eat and I love to please people. The restaurant business is nurturing. My dad was a builder and I would go with him to job sites—I hated getting dirty. With cooking, you get dirty, but you get to eat. And getting dirty as a builder is not the same as getting dirty with cocoa powder.

TFP: Proudest cooking or restaurant moment?
GD: When I was young and mastered decorating pies and cakes—the first time it looked professional. I remember bringing a pie home and my mom said, "Gary, you didn't make that!" When she went to weddings, she would bring me a flower from the cake. I remember once she brought me this Cala lily and I was amazed. I know it was just gum paste, but it was so realistic and beautiful.

TFP: Favorite ingredient?
Mushrooms. They're like their own little flavor boats. You can stuff them, cook them under high heat, slice them, sauté them...and with mushrooms you have an instant sauce. They're also high in umami, which is the fifth taste sensed by taste buds besides sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

TFP: Least favorite ingredient?
GD: Truffle oil. I hate it. I love truffles, but not the oil. You can smell it immediately when it comes to the table and it takes over the whole dish. Plus, Italians have been able to reproduce it, so now sometimes it's actually just an essence.

TFP: If you weren't a chef, what would you be?
GD: An opera singer. I love great voices.

Gary Danko
800 N. Point St.
San Francisco, CA 94109

Susan Dyer Reynolds is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Northside San Francisco.

(Updated: 09/15/10 NW)

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