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From San Francisco:
Staffan Terje
Guiltless Pleasures
by Susan Dyer Reynolds

Staffan Terje

When Swedish-born Staffan Terje moved to the Napa Valley in 1986, it brought back memories of growing up on a farm, using produce from local growers and neighbors’ yards. After settling into Wine Country life, Terje took a job at the original Piatti in Yountville and rose quickly through the ranks, eventually responsible for new locations, menu development and staff training. Terje says he always had a passion for Italian cuisine, and he honed his skills with Donna Scala (Bistro Don Giovanni), ultimately spending seven years as the chef of Scala’s Bistro. In 2006, Terje became executive chef and co-owner (along with front-of-the-house maestro Umberto Gibin) of a new restaurant called Perbacco, which draws its inspiration from the traditional dishes of Italy’s northwestern regions like Piemonte, Val D’Aosta and Liguria, as well as a few from the Provence region of France. Terje buys seasonal produce from small, local purveyors and has a curing room to make his own salumi. His bold, rustic repertoire (which includes some of the best pastas in town) helps to keep Perbacco near the top of the most coveted table list.

Spring looks to be a busy season for Terje, as he'll be instrumental in Passover dinner at Perbacco with Joyce Goldstein, a cooking class at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, and an event at the Cellar at Macy’s Union Square (“with a farmer”), all in April of 2008.

What's the last thing you cooked for yourself?
ST:
Hanger steak and a salad of arugula and shaved Parmesan—I go simple at home. Believe it or not, I eat lots of take-out...pizza, Thai, Indian. Sometimes I just forget to eat.

What's your favorite food from your childhood?
ST:
Pan-fried Baltic herring in summertime, when I was three years old and my grandpa showed me how to debone it. It was a learning experience.

How would you describe the working in your kitchen?
ST:
Intense. The food is fairly simple, but there’s lots of fresh product—some cooks fast, some slow. Something is constantly being prepared, so it’s a balancing act—braised greens on one side, 60-day salami on the other. And the menu changes every day depending on the crops of our purveyors.

What's something in your fridge or freezer at home that would surprise people?
ST:
Tons of herring and creamed codfish from IKEA—if you see someone at IKEA with lots of this stuff in their basket, you know it’s an ex-pat. I also have frozen latkes.

What's a meal or a dish that, as a young chef, was an inspiration or a revelation?
ST:
When I was an apprentice in Sweden with a French chef: warm bone marrow and chicken liver mousse with crayfish sauce. It was a pain in the ass to make—delicate and it required lots of technique—but it was fantastic.

Is there a dish on your menu that will follow you wherever you go?
ST:
At Perbacco, the agnolotti with veal and Savoy cabbage...it really speaks to the cuisine of Piemonte—delicate pasta, intense filling, sparing sauce; they say, “The sauce is almost on the inside.”

What's the last restaurant you ate at besides your own?
ST:
Incanto on Church Street.

What's your favorite offal?
ST:
All of them; offal is very underutilized. That’s one reason I like Incanto—they do great things with it. If I had to pick, I really like blood; I grew up on black pudding. It’s challenging to use.

What are your guilty pleasures?
ST:
I don’t feel guilty about anything! It’s a pleasure—why feel guilty?

What would your last meal on earth be?
ST:
Really good sushi, and lots of it.

Perbacco Ristorante + Bar
230 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
415-955-0663

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


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