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Gary Danko.

Restaurant in town. United States,San Francisco

Gary Danko

Gary Danko San Francisco 94109

I grew up in a large family with a southern mother, Hungarian father, and in a small town: Massena, New York. My father, Frank, built houses, Opal is my mother, housewife and household manager --we grew up as a working family. As the the third son, my two older brothers went to work with my father and I was delegated to stay home with my mother and learned how to clean and cook. And I changed quite a few baby diapers. My parents taught me a great work ethic, a discipline which is not easily taken to when you are young and have a love of good food!

Eventually, I worked construction in the family business - my father had agreed to the remodeling of the local restaurant -The Village Inn. I went to work with him, was not interested in construction and disappeared into the restaurant’s kitchen and never looked back. At twelve, my first job was in the fall and winter as a hat check boy. I worked for tips. Eventually, when I was 14, I was started working in the kitchen as a dishwasher. We lived seven miles away and my father or brother drove me to and from work, until I could drive, many times way past midnight.

As a chef of 30 years and a restaurateur for 10 years now - I work in the kitchen as well as whatever department needs realigning or clarification. Recharging for me is what I do in "stolen moments" where you work hard to make sure everything is in order so that when you have to leave for a day or weekend to get away, all your mise en place is fully done. You build it up before you leave and rebuild it when you return.

Inspiration comes from sleep and chilling at home...and shopping. I love art and beautiful things - I always keep my eyes open for unique pieces, I shop for mid century modern, Hollywood Regency, Art Deco.

I travel a lot in my position, so I do go to Europe or other locations with Relais and Chateaux, culinary excursions, guest chef events and promotions. I love to travel the world, I buy art in every country I visit, and I love certain eras in time for architecture and design, furniture and pieces that are hard to find - ones you see, fall in love with, and say I have to have that. There are so many great pieces I have passed up and regretted- I love beauty! Travel is one of the most essential parts of becoming a chef - it opens your eyes to the ways of the world and can influence your cooking and life!

My food pleasures have evolved around simple pleasures such as the perfect fig, the perfect peach or roast chicken. These are hard to find!

What was your most moving culinary experience?
The first times I ate the food of young chefs like David Bouley, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud back in the 80's. They still stand the test of time. These meals inspired me to reach for higher grounds and expand my knowledge.

My pleasures are rooted in the more traditional types of cooking, I love familiar flavors. Modern cooking is more theater driven, bordering on unknown taste and flavors - If you see the performance once and you enjoyed it - and you tell your friends, but you never go back, then it doesn't work for longevity or building a classical cuisine. For me food has to have well balanced flavors and has to be desired - enough to make you want to return - time after time, year after year. I'm not convinced that modern gastronomy has promising staying power.

On a side note - I have seen many trends that come and go. Of those particular trends, 5 % will remain as a solid player in culinary technique and will be remembered and practiced after the fad has passed. I believe that restaurants become known and build their following when guests return for very particular dishes.

The most amusing kitchen incident you ever witnessed?
I worked in upstate New York at a restaurant that I was consulting for. In typical upstate summer weather, hot and humid as it could be - I am cooking on the line - blistering heat, inside and out. I am finishing my sauce for the evening service and I look into the saucepan and there are hundreds of mosquitoes floating in it. The heat outside overwhelmed the swarming mosquito population, wilting them and throwing their parched bodies into the kitchen through the exhaust fans. Thank the culinary gods - I had saved last night’s sauces!

In the same restaurant there was the time when the busser mistook the black olives for the canned cherries for the flambé.

Your best piece of advice for amateur chefs?
If you are talking about the occasional chef. I love the fact that people are passionate about food and want to cook and want to learn to learn to cook - it is one of the greatest pastimes for Americans today. They should continue to cook and learn and entertain guests and family.

My best advicc - Don't confuse your passion for cooking and the advice of your friends who tell you are a good cook and should consider opening a restaurant. Pleasures can change into rigorous work and that is exactly what you will do if you enter the restaurant business. Keep your pleasures as your pleasures. Home cooking can be much more personal than a restaurant experience - the only downer is having to do the dishes!