By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap
When asked why a Swedish-born chef would choose to open an authentic Italian restaurant, Staffan Terje, chef and owner of Perbacco in San Francisco, replies, “Italian food is the food that talks to me. You don’t choose who you fall in love with. It just happens.” Staffan grew up on his grandfather’s farm outside of Stockholm, Sweden, where he discovered his passion for food and eating at an early age. Surrounded by farm fresh produce and a family that loved to cook and eat, entering into the restaurant industry was an easy decision later in life.
“Cooking defines me. It’s what I do.”
– Chef Staffan Terje
Following high school, Staffan enrolled at the Hotel and Restaurant School in Stockholm, completing his apprenticeship at the Michelin starred restaurant, Gourmet. In 1982, after working in Stockholm for a few years, Staffan was offered a job in Sarasota, Florida. “My friend and I planned to work there for a year and come home with bragging rights that we had worked in “The US”,” Staffan says. “We’re both still here.”
Career highlights include; Sherry Oven in Napa from 1986, Piatti Ristorante in Yountville in 1998, a seven-year stint at San Francisco’s famed Scala’s Bistro and cooking at The James Beard house in New York City.
“These days, chefs are taking back the skills required to master the craft of cooking,” Staffan explains. “For example, Perbacco has a curing room that we use to make our own salumi.” The inspiration and passion for the food at Perbacco is driven by the rich history of northwestern Italy. Staffan continues his philosophy of buying produce from small, local farmers and artisan producers, picking up produce from the farmers market at the Ferry Plaza, only couple of blocks from the restaurant, in order to support the local growers.
Searching constantly for inspiration, Staffan travels to Italy on a yearly basis for full immersion eating and research. ”Every time I visit, I come home exhausted, recharged and inspired”.
In January 2010 Staffan, along with his business partner, Umberto Gibin, opened Barbacco Eno Trattoria, next door to Perbacco. At Barbacco, he maintains the same quality-driven tenants to form the seasonally changing menu. We talked about his adventurous culinary journey while making Asparagus Risotto in his Perbacco kitchen.
5 Tasty Questions with Chef Staffan Terje
1. What is your earliest food memory?
One thing I really remember as a kid is, we’d go fish in the Baltic Sea for Baltic Herring. My grandmother would pan fry them. They are about the size of our sardines here and we would have that really crispy tail. My grandfather would show me how to bone the fish and when you’re three years old that is just exciting.
2. What is your guilty food pleasure?
Once in a while I will sneak into In n’ Out Burger and get a Double-Double, but I don’t feel guilty about it.
3. What do you love to drink with a meal?
My tastes change. I love wine, but lately I feel my taste buds are changing more towards beer. I love lighter style beers. Some of the Japanese ones are great.
4. What is your favorite San Francisco restaurant?
There are so many great chefs and so many colleagues so I would feel awkward to just name one, but if I have to pick, I just had a lovely meal there, it would be Aziza. Mourad Lahlou cooks amazing food and I’ve seen his food evolve, but he cooks one dish that defines something for me; it’s his couscous. After I had his couscous, which is a very simple dish, everything else just doesn’t measure up.
5. Your last supper, you can have two guests at the table, dead or alive, who would they be and what would you eat?
Julia Childs and Liam, why don’t you join me? And we’ll eat anything that just makes us happy. If I have a say so, just bring me a bloody steak and some good wine, but you know, I’m up for some veggies too.
with Asparagus, Young Red Onions and Castelmagno Cheese
2 cups Acquerello Carnaroli Rice
1 ½ lbs Green Asparagus, sliced and sautéed in butter
1 cup White Wine
8 cups Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock
1 each Shallots, finely chopped,
3 each Spring Onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp Olive Oil
6 tbsp Butter
½ cup Parmesan Cheese
½ cup Castelmagno Cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Bring stock to a boil and keep at a low simmer.
2. Heat olive oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan, add shallots and cook until translucent.
3. Add rice and coat with oil. Cook for about 1 minute. Season with some salt.
4. Add wine and bring to boil, reduce heat and start adding stock a cup at the time
5. Simmer about 20-22 minutes (until rice is al dente and creamy).
6. Add asparagus and spring onion
7. Remove from heat and stir in butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. Finish seasoning with salt and pepper. Add more stock if risotto is to tight, consistency should be loose, almost runny.
8. Spoon risotto onto plates and top Parmigiano Reggiano.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)