-written and photographed by Susan Powers
Through the rustic doors at 2124 Folsom St., one of San Francisco’s top chef’s, Joshua Skenes, is preparing culinary masterpieces five nights a week. Voted one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chef’s for 2011, Chef Skenes’ approach to food is breaking convention. One taste and you are a complete convert and everlasting fan. If you are not careful, his food could very well be the catalysis for love.
When the taxi driver pulled up to the address given him by my dinner date, he was hesitant to let us out of the cab. “Are you sure there is a restaurant here?” he asked. From the street, I wondered the same thing. I had no idea where I was being taken for dinner, only that it was a surprise. Looking through gates and at the “rustic” court yard, I was siding with the cab driver. My companion assured me we were at the right place as we ventured ahead.
As I walked through the door into the outer room of the restaurant, I immediately sensed something different about this restaurant. Micro greens were growing on shelves in the corner while two huge wood-burning ovens permeated the air with delectable smells. Cinder block off-set by citrus trees and a natural wood-topped bar created an interesting contradiction. An intriguing atmosphere sets the stage for your food adventure.
We were greeted at the door of the dining room by a stylishly dressed sommelier and escorted to our table. Still having no idea where I was and the life changing journey we were about to embark on, we were seated.
Glancing down at the menu, it hit me. I was at Saison, one of San Francisco’s hottest restaurants. The price for a seat at the table is not for the faint of heart. There is no ordering, just plate upon plate that arrives at the table, perfectly executed by an amazing wait staff. And don’t be in a rush. Dinner can take more than three hours. I looked up at my dinner companion completely moved that he had brought me here to have this experience. Little did I know the dizzying and heart opening effect the food would have and that I would leave the restaurant falling in love.
Brilliance, intensity, and drive are three words that could be used to describe Chef Joshua Skenes and his approach to food. “What I want to serve is the most interesting, amazing food…the best on earth…better than everything else,” states Skenes. He is well on his way.
Chef Skenes had an affinity for food from a young age. There is a rumored picture of him at 4 years of age, wearing a chef’s hat making mud pies. A premonition? I think so. Like many other chefs, Skenes came to a point, shortly after high school where he needed to choose a direction. It was either martial arts or food. Food won and he found himself enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York. Combining school with working under Jean Georges Vongerichten, Chef Skenes passion for food deepened.
After completing his training, Skenes moved to Boston and helped open Troquet and ended up working under Anthony Ambrose at Ambrosia. Chef Skenes eventually found himself in the bay area, where he became the executive chef at Chez TJ where his culinary creations were getting great attention. Skenes then helped open Stone Hill Tavern at the St. Regis Resort where he continued to be recognized for his gifted cuisine.
All the while, Chef Skenes was developing a concept for his own restaurant, Saison, which means “Seasons” in French. His kitchen, easily as large as the dining room (maybe even larger) is one of the most beautiful professional kitchens I have seen, and is staffed with an amazing array of chefs in white coats.
The camaraderie between the multitude of chefs that are required to execute Skenes food is apparent. Prep starts early, with chefs at numerous stations, some harvesting micro greens, some working at the large wood ovens and a handful in the kitchen, all overseen by the watchful eyes of Skenes.
It is a talented group of chefs, all who are excited to be working with Skenes. The prep is intense, the mood focused, and the evening’s plates are beginning to come to life.
Comfortably seated in the restaurant, the food and wine started to appear. The first course is a “gift” from the chef (the first of many). A small plate with a combination of flavors and textures that subtly announces Skenes genius is perfectly placed on the table. The wait staff seems to be driven by a sixth sense, knowing exactly what we need, when we need it and delivering it almost invisibly. The service is exceptional, deeply contributing to the experience.
Skenes, obsessed with fire and flavor, forages for items that contribute to his plates. His desire to coax the most flavor possible from his ingredients means that fire is intimately involved with 80-90% of what hits the plate. When you eat at Saison, you eat what is placed in front of you. There are no substitutions and there doesn’t need to be. The food is delicious beyond description.
Skenes dishes are all spot on. The balance of flavors and textures, exploding in your mouth one minute, lulling you into a stupor the next, all amaze. I am in the middle of the most flavorful, sensual meals I have ever had. The effect of the food, the beautiful wine pairings and the exquisite service had its effect. Had my vision blurred or cleared.
Can food open all of our senses? Skenes food can and does. I had the most delightful dinner of my life. All of my senses were stimulated, my heart was opened and a new journey began.
Saison 2124 Folsom Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415.828.7990
©All images and content copyrighted 2011 Susan Powers Photography.