As Virgin Hotels San Francisco opens its doors this fall, we’ll also get a taste of Commons Club served up California-style as Executive Chef Adrian Garcia welcomes locals and travelers alike to try the thoughtful menu he’s dubbing ‘Modern Californian cuisine with international influence’.
Before we get to our Q&A with Chef, a little background: influenced at a young age by his family’s culinary traditions, Chef Adrian honed his chops at several Southern Californian mainstays including award-winning restaurant Addison in San Diego, and since moving to San Francisco in 2012, he has quickly made his mark on the culinary scene rising through the ranks at some of the city’s most renowned restaurants: three-Michelin starred Benu and then Quince, where he worked as Chef De Cuisine – and helped to earn their third Michelin star.
We wanted to find out what makes our top Chef tick, so we poured him his favorite drink (an IPA and a shot) and sat down with him for a lively Q&A. His ensuing responses do not disappoint.
Q: What are some of your earliest memories of growing up around food and in the kitchen?
A: My Grandma Elisa is Mexican and she lived on a farm: I remember gathering warm eggs, picking vegetables for fresh salsa, chopping off chicken’s heads… (yes). My Irish Grandma Margie made the best fried chicken, and sandwiches… the best everything really. My Great Grandmother Mercedes is Filipino and she owned a restaurant when I was a kid – I cooked her pork adobo recipe just last night (with a few variations) and it turned out fantastic. All of the wonderful women in my family – my mother, my grandmothers, my sisters – they each urged me to go to culinary school and I’m forever grateful for their encouragement.
Q: How did growing up in California shape your work in the kitchen?
A: Growing up in California was great, I was always out skateboarding or surfing or spearfishing. I think growing up here also helped me to always keep an open mind which definitely translates into my kitchen – I like trying new things, testing unconventional combinations. And obviously we’re spoiled here with the abundance of produce and ingredients at our disposal. California is a special place, there’s no arguing with that.
Q: What do you love most about being a Chef?
A: I love being able to tap into my creativity, to put together ingredients in unexpected ways. Something may be ordinary to me but the combinations might be extraordinary to someone else, and I love getting to share that with people.
Q: What’s something you find challenging about being a Chef?
A: Something that is definitely challenging (yet very rewarding) about being a Chef is working with so many different personality types, and teaching people who have widely varying learning styles. I have to be in tune with all sorts of people, and in order to build a thriving kitchen I really have to know how to bring out the best in each individual. To be honest, cooking at this level doesn’t leave room for mistakes or failure – helping someone to be successful right out of the gate can be intense but all of the hard work is worth it in the end. And dietary restrictions!
Q: Who are some of your greatest inspirations?
A: My mentors along the way – Chef William Bradley, Chef Corey Lee, Chef Michael Tusk… I owe a lot to them in terms of how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come. So much of what I do is informed by what I learned from each of them – they’ve definitely shaped me and continue to inspire me.
Q: Which talent would you most like to have that you currently don’t possess?
A: Hmm… ice sculpting! If I could be a champion ice carver, I would be so down with that.
Q: If you could teleport, right now, to any place in the world – where would you go and what would you eat for lunch?
A: Spain – I’d go to El Capricho, a farm and restaurant that’s been described as the home of the world’s greatest steak. The owner and Chef José Gordon lets his cattle roam his fields for up to 15 years (most cattle only get to roam for two or three years…). The resulting meat – known as buey in Spain – is supposedly a world apart from any beef you’ve eaten before.
Q: You can have one superpower – what is it and why?
A: Being able to speak every language. I could go anywhere and immediately make friends, connect with people and get into the culture more easily. Plus, the locals would trust me with their restaurant and food tips.
Q: Okay, for the proverbial last meal question: what’s yours?
A: An omakase. And sake. Plenty of sake.
Q: And… Spirit animal?
A: A ninja turtle. No, actually – CHUCK NORRIS!
Thanks, Chef 😊