NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chef Staffan Terje trained in his native Sweden and has lived in the United States for 30 years but regional Italian cuisine is the focus at his San Francisco restaurants.
With his partner, Umberto Gibin, Terje opened Perbacco seven years ago in the city's financial district, followed by Barbacco. Both eateries feature dishes from the regions of Piedmont and Liguria in northern Italy.
Terje fell in love with Italian food many years ago and has been cooking it since then, but he could soon be returning to his Scandinavian roots with plans for a third eatery in San Francisco, a Swedish-style restaurant.
"It will be a brasserie where you will see good Swedish meatballs next to steak frites with Bearnaise sauce and there will be oysters on the half shell, as well as pickled herring," he said.
Terje, who is also planning to write a cookbook, spoke to Reuters about discovering Italian cuisine, his family influence and the importance of sourcing ingredients.
Q: How did a Swede become the chef and co-owner of an Italian restaurant in San Francisco?
A: It really started when I had finished hotel and restaurant school and I was working in a French restaurant in Stockholm. Summer in Sweden is a good time to take a vacation. A friend of mine and I were both young cooks and we went around Europe for a month and a half.
During our trip we were in Italy and we ended up spending close to two weeks in Liguria ... All the food we had there was amazingly simple and amazingly tasty. That was my first real introduction to Italian cooking and I just fell in love with that simplicity of great ingredients, done simply but done well. Since then it has always been with me. I've always wanted to know more and more and more.
Q: Did you always want to be a chef?
A: Like any kid I probably wanted to be a million different things but I was fortunate to grow up in a family where my mom, grandmother, aunts and so on were all great cooks. At every family gathering there was always a lot of food. It was a very food-centric family.
Q: Who have been your biggest culinary influences?
A: I have a lot of them. (French chef Georges Auguste) Escoffier has made a big impression on me as somebody who organized cuisine ... the regimented way of a kitchen and cooking. That has made a big influence on me.
When I first started cooking, it was right when nouvelle cuisine was in its heyday. Of course, Alain Chapel, who was a consulting chef at the restaurant I was working in ... he is probably one of the most amazing chefs in modern times.
Q: What does the restaurant name Perbacco mean?
A: Perbacco is an expression in Italian ... It is a positive affirmation. It is an emphasis on positive things, good times.
Q: You specialize in the food of two regions of Italy, Piedmont and Liguria. Why did you select those two regions?
A: Piedmont, I think up until now, has been a little bit neglected in a way. It is cuisine that has so many other influences in it. You have a lot of French influence and really what we are highlighting is the kingdom of Savoy that predates Italy as it stands today. The kingdom of Savoy reached from Turin to Nice and encompassed parts of Liguria ...
It is far north so there is incredible use of dairy besides olive oil, so you have a lot richer cooking and a lot of the techniques are very similar to French.
Q: You are also known for your farm-to-table methods. Why is it so important?
A: I grew up on a farm. My father was a farmer. My grandfather was a farmer. It is something that I have known all my life ... I don't look at my farmers as purveyors. They are partnerships.
Q: What are your most essential ingredients?
A: I would have a hard time cooking without onions. I always start off with some form of onion or garlic. I have to have some good salt. To me they are basic ingredients. To be able to grate some really good parmesan on pasta is important. Eggs are another staple I can't live without. On top of that, it is just good ingredients.
Tagliatelle with Brown Butter Brussels Sprouts and Chanterelles
Brussels Sprouts and Chanterelles
10 oz fresh tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta
16 oz Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
8 oz golden chanterelles, sliced
2 tbsp shallots, finely minced
6 sage leaves, chopped
4 tbsp brown butter
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
Large saute pan
Heat 2 tbsp butter over medium heat in sauté pan until light brown. Add shallots and sage. Cook for two minutes.
Add chanterelles and Brussels sprouts. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Boil tagliatelle pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, but do not rinse. The pasta should be fairly wet.
Add pasta to sprouts and chanterelles with remaining butter. Sprinkle with parmesan and toss until well incorporated. Place on a warm serving platter. Do not use a deep bowl.
Serve with more parmesan if desired.
Editing by Michael Roddy and Marguerita Choy