Food Diaries: San Francisco
Spending spring break doing what I do best - eating
Article by Sophia Yang
Photos by Leah Sprague
West Philly is becoming known as a culinary hotspot for up-and-coming cuisine via mom and pop style restaurants, and Marigold Kitchen serves as a perfect example. It’s outside appearance of a traditional Victorian home on a quiet residential street may give the impression that there’s nothing to see, but looks can be deceiving. Stepping through to the elegant dining room, you’re put at ease in an atmosphere perfect for the experimental tasting menu to come. We headed to Marigold to meet with Chef Andrew Kochan and find out more about who they are, what they do, and how they make the magic happen.
Can you talk about Marigold’s history, and how you became involved?
Marigold has been around making food for a long time. Somewhere around 16 years ago or so, is when Steven Cook took it over. Mike Solomonov worked underneath him, and was a sous chef for a year or two…Steven Cook sold it to Rob Halpern, who was actually my boss. Rob owned it for, I want to say 8 years? I was around for the last year or so…I started here, and I went to school with Tim, my partner who’s the sous chef. We got promoted up, and he became the chef du cuisine, I became the sous chef and– we were able to buy the place. That was 3 years ago.
When you guys took over, what changes did you make?
Rob had worked at a restaurant called Alinea. It’s very modernist. They do weird stuff, like sugar balloons that are filled with helium. We didn’t want to push those same boundaries, because– frankly, I don’t think this city was ready for a place that was going to do like 24 courses, just pure craziness. We do anywhere between 12 to 14 courses, and stepped back a little bit from being modernist. What people would call molecular gastronomy, it’s involved here, but it’s not mission critical.
Where did you work before this, was it in the food industry?
No, I worked for JP Morgan– and I hated it. I sat down with my dad and was like “Look, I hate everything about what I’m doing, you’re going to kill me if I change directions?” And he was like, “No, but what are you going to do?” And I said, “Well everything in my life has been about food, in terms of how I make memories. Stuff with family, stuff with friends, it’s always centered around food. I either want to work in the restaurant business somehow, or, I want to go and work for a conservancy group saving manta rays in the Maldives.” And he said, “Well, you’re not going to get paid diving with manta rays in the Maldives.” (Laughs)
What is it that you enjoy about what you do here, as not a “typical sit down meal”?
I can’t imagine being pigeon-holed, into one specific thing. Like, if all we did was pasta, I’d get bored. I’d get bored fast. (Laughs) But, the fact that we’re pushed to create. We’ve never done a cheese plate where we actually just put cheese, and nuts, and fruit and whatever onto the board, but we’ve done 15, 16 iterations now. Right now, it’s a push pop– goat cheese with orange blossom and cinnamon and walnut. Because we don’t have a regular menu, it allows for us to be a little more creative in whatever direction we want. We’ve had a thousand ideas, and we get to just test out ideas, skills, and things we’ve never tried.
Are there any dishes that come back, because you enjoyed them so much?
No. When we first took over, we said from the very beginning, we’re not going to repeat things. It’s a blessing and a curse, because it’s awesome that we’ve never repeated anything, but it’s also a nightmare.
Why do you always want to be making new courses?
If you’re not pushing forward, then you’re going to fall back onto something that’s easy. And then as soon as we start saying, well we’re never going to get rid of the scallops dish, it’s too easy and everybody likes it, we’ll just make parm broth all the time now. Then, whoever makes the parmesan broth is going to start getting sloppier and lazier, not as good.
Can you give us an example of a dish that’s unique to what Marigold does?
I wanted to do a pumpkin pie dessert, but it turned into our float finisher. So, it’s a maple soda with pumpkin ice cream and a gingersnap cookie. It’s pumpkin pie, but it’s not in the form of pumpkin pie at all. We try to take things out of their element.
Okay, last question. You do a bunch of crazy things to food, what’s been the weirdest?
So, I’d say it’s caramel gel that we’re doing right now. It was the most ass-backwards thing I’ve ever done. There’s all these rules that you follow for caramel. You start the heat, let it caramelize, liquify. Your job is to dab anything on the sides so that it doesn’t burn and cause a chain reaction, where one crystal will cause others to form, and then ruin the whole batch. So for this gel, you make a nice perfect caramel, but overcook it so that it hardens to a rock. Then, you let it cool, add a bunch of water, and boil it back down to nothing. So, essentially you make something difficult, then destroy it immediately. Then, you set it with agar-agar, which is from red algae, cool it, take it out, cut it into small pieces. At that point, it’s like weird caramel gummies, and then blend that with heavy cream. It comes out like an amazing ganache. It’s really good.
Basil Seltzer, Reduced Balsamic
French Onion Ravioli
Foie Gras Lettuce & Tomato
Mache, Sourdough, Roasted Tomato
Quail Egg, Hot Sauce Bubbles, Scallion
Yuzu Jus, Sake, Cilantro Ice
Grilled Pineapple, Pico de Gallo, Guava
Black Garlic, Maitake, Dashi
Fennel, Leek, Mango
Pink Peppercorn, Black Peppercorn
White Bean, Arugula, Niçoise, Cured Yolk, Pepper
Wild Mushroom, Corn, Golden Beet, Concord Grape
Manchego, Ricotta, Kirsch, Honey, Walnut, Cubeb
Cinnamon, Brandy, Raisin, Wild Rice, Orange
Sweet Corn, Chipotle, Dark Chocolate