Fish & Farm's Chad Newton: The SFoodie Interview
Growing up in Mountain View, Chad Newton got an early taste of restaurant glory via family trips to Stars, Jeremiah Tower's watershed Cali brasserie. "I used to always gravitate toward the regular menu, not the kid's menu," Newton said. He graduated from the Restaurant Management program at S.F. State, and in 2001 scored a front of the house job as food runner at Postrio during the reign of Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal (now the forces behind Town Hall and its restaurant sibs). He occasionally helped out in the kitchen, eventually landing the position of Hot Prep, lowest rung on the kitchen ladder. Newton cut his teeth on staff meal and stocks, later rising through the ranks.
Jesse Friedman/beerandnosh.com Chad Newton: Wants Gordon to keep yelling.
"The Rosenthal brothers gave me an unbelievable opportunity to be part of the kitchen crew there and I jumped at it," the 30-year-old chef told us. "Mitchell was just so passionate, and Steven was really good on the business side of things."
In 2005, Newton was opening sous chef at Redd in Yountville. For the Kimpton Group, he worked as a consultant under Jan Birnbaum on a steakhouse project in Boston. Newton became executive chef at Baraka in late 2007, a position he held till the Potrero Hill restaurant closed at the start of the year.
Newton picked up the chef's clipboard at Fish & Farm three and a half months ago, overseeing a reconcepting that included a menu overhaul. "I like to take familiar things and do them really well," he said. Newton's Bacon Tater Tots are one of those familiar things, and in August, 7x7's Bits + Bites named F&F's burger one of the city's best. Earlier this month, Newton engineered the launch of American Box, a takeaway lunch service at Fish & Farm -- the chef describes it as "a cool little really fresh ingredient-driven lunch." He blogs at Chateau!, is an avid Twitterer, and recently opened up to SFoodie contributor Mary Ladd about his inspirations, staying positive, and the vital importance of Lil Wayne. Drop it like it's hot. -- J. Birdsall
SFoodie: Flavors, ingredients, or techniques you have an irrational attachment to?
Newton: Mustard. I want to add it to everything, one of my first mentors once told me: "mustard and bacon makes everything better." Still words to live by. I had already experienced the love of mustard in my life. When I was really young I would put mustard on crackers as a snack.
Most overrated food trend in S.F.?
I want to try to be positive about anything chefs or restaurateurs are doing. Especially in these trying times, whatever is working for people and making guests happy, I'm all for. We all need to support each other, and that is what the San Francisco restaurant scene is about, a tight community that works together, shares ideas and tips, and so forth.
Biggest screw-up in the kitchen?
Nothing really big. It's always something small and humorous, like accomplishing a full, long day of perfect prep and then getting that first happy hour order and realizing that the fryer has not been turned on. The bacon Tater Tots now take 10 minutes instead of two. Nothing more frustrating, yet funny at the same time.
Favorite off-night restaurant?
We [Newton and girlfriend Grace Nguyen] always love Nopa and Beretta for our go-to late-night and off-day choices. We tend to eat a lot more brunches on my one Sunday off a week instead of dinners out. We like to cook a nice small meal for dinner on Sunday after our post-brunch nap. It usually consists of a small salad, a cheese plate, and pasta, chased down with a simple European wine.
Chef from another genre or cooking style who inspires you?
Charles Phan really inspires me -- his restaurants are so dialed in. The Slanted Door is still always busy and delicious, the flavors are so vibrant, the service and wine is great. Heaven's Dog is a remarkable idea, fusing great Chinese food with some of the best cocktails in the city, and open late. The thought work, attention to detail, and product consciousness is what makes him so inspirational. I want his restaurant empire in the future!
Guiltiest food pleasure?
Any kind of gummy candies from The Candy Store in Russian Hill, right around the corner from where we live. I have always had a weird obsession for gummies, all shapes, flavors, and sizes. I usually eat a good size bag in 10 minutes or so!
Favorite music to cook by?
Without a doubt or hesitation Lil Wayne. All of his music is amazing and the beats keep the cooks moving. Also on the Fish & Farm play list is a lot of Outkast and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Great kitchen jams. Young cooks in my kitchen are always told up front that Lil Wayne is the official entertainer of the Fish & Farm.
Favorite food city?
The Bay Area as a whole! San Francisco, Oakland, Napa, Berkeley, Los Gatos. We are extremely blessed to have this natural bounty. If I had to say a second, it would be Portland, Oregon. Just love the feel of eating and drinking in that city. Good times.
What show would you pitch to Food Network?
It would be called A Day In The Life of A Real Chef in A Real Restaurant. It would be about a really talented chef that is not famous, but respected in his city and by his fellow chef friends. It would show the day-to-day struggle to get a small chef-owned restaurant up and running, and show him making sure that night after night, all efforts are exhausted to make the guests happy. Hopefully it would dissuade a lot of young people interested in becoming a chef for the sole reason that they can become a celebrity chef immediately! Once they see how unglamorous it actually all is, hopefully they'd think twice about entering this field.
Celebrity chef who should shut the hell up?
Are you hoping I will say Gordon Ramsay? He should keep yelling! The people on his shows are so inexperienced yet they think they are the best of the best. It is actually kind of sad. I love you Gordon!