Gaby’s tasting menu of small plates blends her Hawaiian roots with California’s abundance of fresh produce and game. She strives to create a “whimsical and fun” aura in every dish, each as tasty as the next. Her presentation, in her words, is “like a diamond.” (For wine lovers, State Bird Provisions has a section dedicated to the varietal know as Gamay, which the chef says pairs well with the restaurant’s namesake commandable, fried quail.)
She got her start as a line chef at Gary Danko, another renowned San Francisco eatery.
“That was a big part of me as a chef,” she recalls. “Me as a gay chef.”
In fact, owner and head chef Gary Danko produces some of the Bay Area’s most noteworthy chefs. “To be seriously considered in your career, there were three or four restaurants in San Francisco that you needed to work at,” Gabby says. “Gary Danko was one of them.”
She acknowledges that these are often “tough houses” for budding chefs but they can also be opportunities to learn from the best. “Just shut up, put your head down, and pray they don’t notice,” she told herself during her years as an apprentice, a sacrifice that has paid off today.
She said that working for Danko also helped her be her authentic self in the workplace.
“I felt very comfortable being honest with everyone about my orientation,” she says. “Finding out that Chef Gary was gay made it easier. I felt supported by everyone: the sous chefs, line cooks, servers, and the front of the house. They were all supportive like it didn’t even matter. That meant a lot to me.”
This culture of acceptance and support has stuck with Gaby throughout her career. As she rose through the ranks and made a name for herself, she carried this culture of kindness into her kitchen.
The Danko experience “definitely translates into how I am here, now,” she comments. “I have complete empathy for everyone in my kitchen. They aren’t just bodies that fill stations; they’re people with feelings, and it’s valid to have feelings.”
She makes sure “there’s no room for scolding, you know? It’s distracting and doesn’t make the food cook any faster or taste any better. There’s a difference between leading by fear and working when you’re scared versus leading with respect and wanting to work hard for someone because you respect people.”
Watching Gaby prepare for the evening’s service, we could see this philosophy in action – so welcoming compared to the culture of harassment and intimidation created by some male celebrity chefs. Gaby attends to the relationships in her kitchen as artfully as the plates that leave it. You won’t find a hot-tempered chef at State Bird; just high boiling points and a commitment to excellence.
State Bird Provisions is one of many remarkable Asian/Pacific Island-inspired restaurants in San Francisco.
Here are a few others on Gaby’s food radar: