Sarah Kirnon: Following in Her Grandmother's Footsteps

Categories: 'Eat' Extra
Sarah Kirnon.
Sarah Kirnon, chef of Oakland's Hibiscus ― the subject of today's review ― was born in Britain and raised in Barbados. She moved to San Francisco 10 years from London (for love, naturally); after running the kitchens at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack and the Front Porch, she opened Hibiscus. When I talked to Kirnon last week, I asked her: With all the blending of Caribbean and Californian ingredients she does, how does she decide what is essential to make a dish the right way?

"I definitely start with specific Caribbean dishes," she replied. "I have had my own repertoire of dishes, and I collect cookbooks. My family spans across Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana, and Monserrat. Some, if not all, these dishes are coming from these islands.

"I work with the available ingredients here, but the flavors are traditional. Here [in the States], Caribbean food runs into stereotypes of what it should be. We share a lot of common ingredients with South American food, Thai food, and Hawaiian food, so I'm sourcing food from some of these vendors.

"If I can't find it, we make it. We've made our own cassava paste and coconut milk. These are just steps that sometimes, in the small mom-and-pop restaurants, they can't afford or don't have a time to prepare. This restaurant is a labor of love. I'm here many days from 8 a.m. to end of the line. I'm teaching the people who are working with me in the kitchen about how and where these flavors come from.

"I grew up with a grandmother and great-grandmother who were magicians in the kitchen. We didn't have a lot, but whatever we had tasted amazing. I'm taking the things that are handed to me, and using the ingredients I do have to showcase them."

Follow us on Twitter: @SFoodie. Follow Jonathan Kauffman at @JonKauffman.

Location Info




1745 San Pablo, Oakland, CA

Category: Restaurant

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