Foodie Chap: Scala’s Bistro, San Francisco
By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap
Raised in Brooklyn where the food is all about the ingredients, Jennifer Biesty formed the foundation of her culinary style today. As one of the youngest students enrolled at the CIA Hyde Park NY, it was clear that Jennifer’s early and innate culinary talent would pave her path in becoming a talented and well-respected chef.
After graduating from the CIA, Jennifer worked behind the line at New York City’s Aquavit, where she further developed her technical skills through the restaurant’s European culinary approach. While understanding these skills, Jennifer also explored unique spices and ingredients, broadening her palette and inspiring her to move to San Francisco, a place where she could work with the freshest ingredients.
“Being a Chef to me is a gift.”
– Jen Biesty, Executive Chef
Upon her arrival, Jennifer’s culinary career developed under the tutelage of Loretta Keller Chef/Owner of the late Bizou and current coco500. Together they participated in benefit dinners at The James Beard House, The Master’s of Food & Wine and Taste of the Nation; strengthening Biesty’s bond with San Francisco’s food community.
Continuing to develop her personal culinary style, Jennifer took time to travel on her own and explore the cultures of Italy, Spain and Paris. Concluding her trip, she found herself in London working at the River Cafe, alongside talented chefs such as Ruth Rodgers, Rose Gray and Jamie Oliver. Through this experience, Jennifer was able to integrate her understanding for European technique and ingredients with the cafe’s rustic culinary approach; consequently defining her ingredient-driven culinary style we see today.
Jennifer returned to San Francisco to work with Chef Traci des Jardines at the San Francisco favorite Jardiniere restaurant and after a year found herself back alongside Loretta Keller. Together they transformed Bizou into the acclaimed coco500, where Biesty played an integral role in the redesign and held the position of Executive Chef. Under her lead, San Francisco Chronicle Food Critic Michael Bauer rewarded the restaurant with 3-stars, immediately following its debut.
In 2007, Jennifer appeared as a contestant on Season 4 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in Chicago. On the show her culinary skills were put to the test, facing difficult challenges against fierce and talented competition.
She is remembered as much for her memorable “faux-hawk” hair as she is for her knockout cuisine. More on this in our interview. From this experience, Jennifer became aware of her true culinary talent and was inspired to face the undertaking of reinventing and elevating the menu at Scala’s Bistro, a legendary monument in the city.
5 Tasty Questions with Chef Jen Biesty
1. Define your cuisine.
The chef at Scala’s is also the chef of the hotel, so these past three years has been having to do all kinds of banquets, and then Starlight Room the menu up here is very versatile. Versatile! Actually, Americlectic. There’s like new American, and eclectic. Americlectic.
2. It’s midnight, you go to the fridge, it’s your midnight snack time. What’s always in your fridge at home?
Vodka in the freezer, you gotta have citrus for the vodka, and then I’m a big fan of fried egg sandwiches. I always have good eggs in the fridge and some good hearty bread some like Cave-Aged Gruyere.
3. If not a chef, what would you be?
I was thinking it would be awesome to be a back-up dancer. You know, it’d be so rad.
4. Soundtrack to your culinary journey, one artist or one song?
Whoa, that’s a hard one! I’m gonna go ACDC.
5. Last supper, you can have a couple of guests, past or present, famous or not. Who would they be and what would you eat?
I would go with Marcella Hazan, I’ve never met her, but I’m a huge fan of her books and I love the way she cooks. My Grandmother, I think that would be pretty cool. She’s no longer alive. Jennifer Alba, oh no but then I wouldn’t want my grandmother there! Some hot ladies would be nice. I’m a big fan of the pig so I think roast suckling pig, a big magnum of delicious red wine, and some wild chantrelles simply sautŽed. You know, I’m Irish, so some nice roasted potatoes.
Liam: I’m crashing!
Jen: Yeah, come! You! You’re invited!
Liam: Tasty answers, chef Jennifer Biesty, thanks sweetheart!
Jen: Pleasure! Nice to see you.
Squid Ink Risotto Calabrain Chili Stuffed Squid
Buy fresh whole cleaned squid at your favorite fish shop. 10-12 pieces (2 per person, if they are very large you could use one per person, but here in San Francisco you can find nice small squid. The east coast is known for larger squid bodies)
For the sausage:
½ lb ground pork,80% lean
1 Tbs Calabrian chilies, chopped fine
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper, ground
1 Tbs Fennel seeds, ground
1 1/2 tsp Garlic, chopped
2 tsp Pepper, black, ground
2 Tbs Paprika, sweet.
Mix meat with salt, & spices. Put into a piping bag and fill the body of the squid. Set aside. Insert the piping bag into the body of the squid and fill until ¾ of the way full. Chill until ready to make risotto.
For the risotto: Cook Time: 40 minutes
3 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice
1/4 cup white wine
1 quart fish broth, chicken or vegetable broth
1 packet squid ink (about 4 grams)
2 Tbs butter
¼ tsp Lemon juice
Pour the fish broth into a pot and bring it to a simmer.
In another medium-sized, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion until tender and translucent then add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir to combine. Cook this for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
Add the white wine and stir to combine. Stirring constantly, cook this until the wine has almost cooked away. Add about 1/2 cup of the simmering stock and continue the process. It is important to add stock slowly, stir constantly and let the liquid almost cook away before adding more. This should take about 20-30 minutes.
When the rice has cooked (but still has a bite), add the squid ink, butter, lemon juice and salt to taste.
Preheat oven 400 degrees. Heat a medium size skillet. Add 1 tbs Olive oil. Brown the stuffed squid bodies on all sides. Place in oven for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes add the tentacles. Cook for another 4 minutes. Remove from pan. Place approximately ½ c. of rice on each plate (4 tbs). On each plate place a pair of squid sausage on top of the rice with tentacle on top.
Garnish with wild arugula or Japanese mustard greens, julienne preserved lemon, sliced Calabrain chilies. Drizzle with a quality extra virgin olive oil such as Olio Verde or Davero olive oil.
(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.)