Breakfast aficionado. Fitness-phile. Shirtless artisan. We enter the simple life of the Bay Area chef slash entrepreneur.
“In my time off, I’ve been returning to a simpler approach.”
“We were just about to go for a run,” Brandon Jew is chomping on an apple slice as we step into the small, garden studio where he’s lived – on and off – for the last eight years. His Chinese grandparents own the building, so he stays for free. “I don’t exactly have a real job right now, so it’s kind of nice to not be paying real rent.”
Jew not having ‘a real job’ is easily explained: he’s opening a restaurant. (Another one.) Over the past handful of years, Brandon has become one of the most notable young chefs in the San Francisco area, having honed his skills at Zuni Café, Quince, Camino, and most recently, Bar Agricole – where he was the founding chef. If you like food in the Bay Area, you’ve probably tasted Brandon’s creations. Now, he’s taking a page from the memories of his youth – a concept in Chinatown that serves pure, farm-to-table Chinese cuisine. Jew is already working with local farmers to grow Chinese vegetables, and plans on making his own tofu, soy sauce, and fermented bean pastes in-house.
Brandon and his girlfriend Annalee are dressed in shorts and t-shirts and stretching on the shaded concrete terrace. Reggae music is playing. Brandon puts down his glass of water, and we head towards Golden Gate Park, where the pair starts every day with a run. Afterwards, we head back towards the pink stucco house where Brandon pours the same glass of water from earlier on his head to cool off, and announces that he’s going to make us breakfast.
“Breakfast is the one meal I can cook for us every day,” Brandon says. As he’s usually taking meetings during the afternoon and into the evening. “Since I don’t have to be anywhere in the mornings, I have the time to make something we can really enjoy.” Brandon cooks with his shirt off. “It just feels good,” he laughs.
He grabs a knife. Over the entrance to the kitchen hang delicate, Polynesian-print curtains that sway back and forth as he moves. “You guys are getting the authentic morning experience around here.” While he starts dicing and sautéing, we set up a table on the back terrace with Annalee. She has prepared Pu-erh tea, Brandon’s favorite. It’s a strong, earthy black tea; dark as coffee. She adds honey and drinks from a mug that reads: “THIS HAS BEEN A GOOD DAY”. The air smells like the rosemary from the garden.
“I always cook with my shirt off. It just feels good. You guys are getting the authentic morning experience around here.”
After 15 minutes or so, Brandon emerges from the kitchen producing delightful small plates of fried eggs, sautéed Chinese greens, bright red tomatoes with flaky Parmesan slices, fingerling potatoes, pears, and fresh raspberries with chocolate. In the previous hour spent with Brandon, it had been easy at times to forget his profession. Now it’s impossible. Everything is delicious. We eat with chopsticks, our faces warmed by the sun. “In my time off, I’ve been returning to a simpler approach,” Brandon says. He’s talking about his food, but we like to think it goes a bit further than that.