How I See San Francisco: Chef Traci Des Jardins
James Beard award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins has faced off against chefs on Food Network’s Iron Chef America and Bravo’s Top Chef Masters 3, but those feats pale in comparison to her accomplishments as one of San Francisco’s premier chefs. A California native who was raised on a Central Valley farm, she’s become the gustatory mastermind behind iconic local eateries such as Mijita, Public House, Manzanita and, most recently, The Commissary in the Presidio of San Francisco. Here, she shares some of her favorite things about San Francisco.
How has your upbringing in California influenced your experience with food?
I come from the heartland. My father was a farmer, and I came from where most of the food in California comes from, the Central Valley, so I’m connected with where food comes from, and that has to do with who I am as a chef.
What do you love most about living in San Francisco?
It’s a beautiful city. There’s a quaintness that’s really lovely and sophisticated; it sort of has a European feeling. It’s beautiful, and the weather, for me, is perfect. As a chef, we do have so much access to great products that the farmers produce around us — meat, seafood, produce — everything comes from here that we can be inspired by.
How would you describe the food culture in San Francisco?
You don’t realize it until you go somewhere else, but I wouldn’t even call people foodies. It’s not a trend, it’s just who we are. We just have higher standards for coffee, bread, produce, meat — I think we’re spoiled. We just have great access to really fabulous food.
What is your favorite thing to eat right now?
Padron Peppers are a big thing here. They’re a little Spanish pepper like pepperoncini. About five years ago they appeared in the Bay Area, and they were super expensive. Farmers kind of caught on and realized they can grow them easily, so they’ve become this very trendy but very delicious food item, and they’re just completely delicious. I just like to eat them anytime with olive oil and salt. They’re about as good as anything you can eat.
What advice do you have for visitors looking to explore the food world of San Francisco?
Go to the farmers markets. There’s one in every neighborhood. They’re the center of the food universe. The Valencia corridor, Bi-rite Creamery, Bi-rite Market, they have a great cross sampling of all the food. The Fatted Calf Charcuterie has pates and meat products. The Marin Farmers Market. Those are all things that are great.