This coming week, Test Kitchen in Sai Ying Pun welcomes husband-and-wife chef team Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire to Hong Kong. The four-day pop-up will feature a homey, comfort-food menu from the duo’s award-winning Sonoma County, California, restaurant, Backyard.
Having both previously worked with Thomas Keller at Ad Hoc and Bouchon, the pair have won the coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand award every year since the opening of their passion-project restaurant, Backyard, in 2012. Boasting a strong emphasis on provenance, with 90% of the produce sourced directly from their county, Backyard was awarded the International Slow Food “snail of approval” for its ethical operations.
Before his arrival in Hong Kong, we chatted to Chef Kedan about his food ethos and why Sonoma is where his heart is.
Tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to set up your restaurant in Sonoma.
I went to school in Napa at CIA (Culinary Institute of America) Greystone and worked under many amazing chefs, where I really learned my passion for technique and professionalism. Sonoma County is where I call home. What sets Sonoma County apart from so many other destinations is the extensive diversity and how much we can produce. We have a year-round growing season that allows for the most amazing produce. Our ranchers help to set the standard for raising animals while sustaining the land. The ocean provides a plethora of edibles, from seaweed to abalone. We have an extensive array of wild foods that are indigenous and exclusive to the area, such as the candy cap mushroom. Because of these amazing resources and the freedom for chefs to create and be who they want, this area attracts talented and passionate artisans who want to share their passions while creating an amazing life. It is a truly remarkable place. I hope everyone gets to experience it.
Your food repertoire is focused around comfort and good eating. What inspires your cooking style?
We like to describe our food as technique-driven comfort food. We get our inspiration from the passion of the people around us. The farmers, ranchers, foragers, fishermen and artisans are the people who help to create our daily-evolving menu. We want everyone to be able to enjoy a meal and to taste the passion and dedication that went into their food. It takes the same respect for technique to properly fry a chicken as it does to make pasta or salumi.
You’ve been a member of the founding teams at several restaurants. What was it like opening your own independent restaurant? What were some unforeseen challenges?
Opening a restaurant is a very difficult task, especially when it is your own. Every detail, phone call, problem comes through to you. You lose the ability to focus solely on the food. If the sink needs to be fixed, the driveway needs to be repaired, the sign outside needs adjusting – that all falls on you and are distractions from the kitchen. Just when you think you have it under control, that is when the unforeseen happens. A perfect example would be on our opening weekend. A massive hurricane swept through the East Coast, where our point-of-sales system is located. The night before we opened, everything was shut down and remained shut for three days. We were unable to run a credit card or use our order system the entire opening weekend. We were back to handwritten tickets. Although opening a restaurant as an owner and chef is hard, the real challenge is in keeping it open. Once the doors open is when it really gets challenging.
What is your all-time favourite dish?
There is nothing I love more than a great roast chicken with vegetables I’ve just harvested from the farm. That, and my absolute cure for anything, matzo ball soup.
Who are your culinary heroes and why?
My culinary heroes are not limited to chefs. Harold McGee is a big inspiration; his book is where I learned to love the “whys” of cooking. I still pick up his book whenever I have a scientific-based question. Sandor Katz taught me about my passion for fermentation and preservation. He is one of the reasons fermented foods have become so popular in the United States. I believe that you can gain a great understanding about a culture and their history through how they preserve their foods. Thomas Keller (and Dave Cruz and Joshua Craine, the chefs of his restaurants whom I worked under) taught me what it means to be a true professional. His restaurants ignited a passion for technique and respect that I had never known. I could talk for hours about more people who have influenced the chef I am today. I profoundly thank all those who’ve influenced my life as a chef.
What Chinese ingredient or flavour profile most resonates with you?
I am really looking forward to experiencing new spices, chillies and produce that I’ve never seen. I have heard in detail of all of the markets and ingredients that await me. I am very much looking forward to learning about various fermentation techniques.
Backyard pop-up at Test Kitchen
Dates: 7–10 March 2019
Time: 7pm and 8:15pm (2 seatings)
Location: Test Kitchen, Shop 3, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun
Price: $1,000/person (11-course tasting menu); +$580 (wine pairings); +$180 (corkage)
To book: click here
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