Three Top S.F. Chefs Dish On Their Local Chef Crushes, Fave Coffee Shops, Off-The-Clock Eats, And More!

As part of the over-the-top S.F. Chefs foodie event this past weekend, four of the city's top chefs—Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn, Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake and Orson, Chris Cosentino of Incanto, and Russell Jackson of Lafitte—split into teams of two and dueled in a live-cooking challenge centered around coffee. Italian java company Illy supplied the brew, Chase Sapphire supplied the $25,000 in prize money (going to two local charities), and the four chefs supplied plenty of entertainment while each team cooked up four mouth-watering, coffee-infused dishes in just an hour. In the end, the Falkner-Cosentino duo came out on top, and we caught up with three of the chefs to discuss what makes the local food scene so special, their personal S.F. Chef crushes, their top go-to coffee shops and off-the-clock dining spots, and what's up for each of them next. (Hint: Cookbooks!!) Check out our exclusive interviews with Crenn, Falkner, and Jackson after the jump!
Dominique Crenn doing some fancy culinary stuff.
Dominique Crenn
What makes the S.F. food scene so special?

“There are a lot of creative people in the chef business here and we come together. It doesn't matter if you do pasta or burgers or fine dining, we always respect eachother and we all want to help eachother and make this city one of the best food cities in America. And I think it’s going that way. Sometimes there’s a lot of ego in our field and I don’t really think you find that here, which is great. For me, I come from France and I have lived here for a long time and it’s really about putting San Francisco on the culinary map. That’s all I want.”

Who is your S.F. Chef crush? Meaning: Someone you just love or maybe you’re jealous of what they can make.

“I’m never jealous of anyone. I love everybody and have a crush on everyone!”
This challenge today was all about coffee. What is your favorite coffee shop in the city?
“Four Barrel.”
What three things are always in your kitchen?
“Foie gras, cherry vinegar, and sea salt.”

What’s your go-to off-the-clock dining spot?

“I love to go to the Tenderloin and get some beautiful and amazing Vietnamese food. I’m also always at Starbelly or Frances in the Castro. In Hayes Valley, I go to Bar Jules.”
Do you ever have a hard time getting a reservation to those places?

“No, no. All I do is walk in and say 'Hi.'"

What’s up next for you?
“I’m doing a TV show with BBC America. It’s about going around the world, to 10 different places. It's with me and three other guy chefs. It's very interesting to me. It’s about discovering other people’s culture and learning and evolving and maybe bringing that back to America and the audience. It’s really education for me. And I want to do a cookbook, but I don’t want to do a recipe cookbook. I want to do a cookbook about stories and about people that have crossed my path. It would be about why I’m here today and kind of a memoir of my life.”
Falkner mixing up some delectable Illy coffee cocktails for the judges.
Elizabeth Falkner
What makes the S.F. food scene so special?
“San Francisco has always been an extraordinary food city because we are in such an agricultural state and we have such an interest in diverse kinds of produce and artisanal products. And it’s not just chefs who are heavily into that, the consumers are also pretty sophisticated. It’s a pioneering kind of city.”

Who is your S.F. Chef crush?
“I actually have a lot of different crushes just because chefs are kind of like my super heroes. I know how hard everybody works, so I like a lot of different people’s food. Definitely everybody here [at this challenge], and I used to work for Traci Des Jardins and I love her place, Mijita, a lot. I love Matt Accarrino at SPQR. Plus, Shelley Lindgren and everything the two of them do there and at A16. I’ve been a longtime fan of Bruce Hill from Zero Zero and Bix. And I’m a big pizza person, so I love Tony in North Beach. I just don’t know anybody more fanatic about making pizza in all of these different ovens with all these different flours. It’s just amazing.”

This challenge is all about coffee. What’s your favorite coffee shop in the city?

“There are a lot of coffee garage shops here, which is really fun and we’ve always had really interesting roasters here. Right now I like the guys at Sightglass a lot. I like the little Vega shop that serves Blue Bottle coffee. They have some really good chilled drinks. I also like the Verve coffee, which comes from Santa Cruz, at Frog Hollow cafe. And I actually use Equator coffee, which is my favorite, at Citizen Cake and Orson. They’re from San Rafael.”
What three things are always in your kitchen?
I always have coffee. I also have butter and chocolate so I can make chocolate chip cookies whenever I’m hungry. It’s a very grounding thing for me to make cookies. I also always have some sort of tomato product because I make a lot of pasta and pizza for myself. I like to grill pizza at home late at night.”

What’s your go-to off-the-clock dining spot?
“Anybody who’s open late. What’s close to me is RN74, so I’ll go there for drinks. Not so much for food. Late night’s kind of sad! Where I live in South Beach, there isn’t a ton of stuff open late. It’s challenging. I try to race over to Tony’s in North Beach. Honestly, I’m kind of always looking for that [late-night] place.”
What’s up next for you?
“I have a cookbook that’s coming out next fall. It’s called Cooking Off The Clock, and it’s all about what I like to cook when I’m not working. I’m also going to be on the next "Iron Chef" on October 30th. So that’s exciting. In a couple of weeks we’ll [launch the new menu] at Citizen Cake. It’s pending right now because we have to get the large dewar for the liquid nitrogen, which is how we’re going to make all the ice cream. But we’ve already got a lot of the savory menu changed. The design of the new menu is really cute; it’s a real throwback. The new sign will go up around the same time.”
Jackson trimming the fat.
Russell Jackson
What makes the S.F. food scene so special?
“When I came to this city a dozen years ago, I was really fortunate that on my first day someone brought me to the SOS Chefs event. And I had come from Los Angeles, which is nothing but hostile territory. So to walk into a room where there were a ton of people I knew and everyone said, 'I’m so happy you’re here. How are you?' It was like, ‘Aren't you going to stab me?' So I’ve learned working here that I can count on people and have friends that do what I do and that I can go off to dinner with them and talk about the stuff that keeps me awake at night. That’s how Dominique and I became good friends. We just sit down and talk as chefs and talk about ideas and inspirations. It's great being able to bounce ideas off of eachother. It’s an amazing supportive community. I’ve made leaps and bounds in my career because of other chefs in this city and I’m sincerely thankful.
Who's your S.F. Chef crush?
“I mean, if we’re going to talk about on the hotness scale, c’mon, my partner [Dominique Crenn] is the wicked hottest of them all. And I recently found out that she’s hunting and fishing and killing things by herself, it sort of just blows the hotness factor off the scale. And the fact that she looks like she does and throws down in the kitchen like she does, it’s just incredibly sexy. Last night, though, I was standing next to a woman, Lynn, who has a burger joint, Roam Artisan Burgers. Oh. My. God. She’s cute and all, but she made this coconut milkshake that, if her burgers are anywhere close to her milkshakes, I have found a new home.”
This challenge was all about coffee. What's your favorite coffee shop in the city?
“My place. But if I had to drink coffee in the city, I’d go to Ritual. And that’s because the owner is a fucking fanatic. She’s about coffee ten-times what I am about food. And I’m pretty nutty about what I do. She scares me. I love their coffee, but for the program we’re doing, it wasn't quite what I wanted. So we went to Seattle to Cafe Vita and that’s what we serve. It's interesting because the coffee roaster they use there is actually from Vesuvio."
What three things are always in your kitchen?
“Right now, if I were to open up the refrigerator, there are gluten-free cookies, 50 pounds of foie gras, and bacon.”
What are your go-to off-the-clock dining spots?
“I don’t have that! My restaurant is 16 months old. I have been able to eat out twice in 16 months. The first time I was so tired I had to take it to-go. And on my birthday I went to Maverick, where one of my sous-chefs, Jonathan Pinksy, just finished his tenure.”
What’s up next for you?
“I would love take a day off. But that’s not going to happen. Right now it’s just about focusing on what’s coming at us over the next few weeks and making sure my crew is prepared for the winter. We’re starting to get a few parties and stuff like that. I just want to make sure we’re producing the best quality of food and service. And that’s beyond a full-time job.”

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