Smokebread's sous chef, Preethi R (yes, that's her whole last name) recently sat down for an interview with The Ruby, a new women's work and event space in SF founded by Rachel Khong, a novelist and food writer/editor who has been curating an awesome line-up of Friday lunches from local small businesses. Thanks to Rachel for this interview--and check out TheRubySF.com!
Tell us about Smokebread! What is it?
Smokebread is our little pop-up in The Perennial restaurant serving delicious spoon salads. They are called spoon salads because it is a juicy bowl of fresh seasonal vegetables dressed in a delectable vinaigrette that's almost gazpacho like so its packed with flavor. You could eat the whole thing with just a spoon! We also serve it with Smokebread which is our house made smoked potato sourdough to soak up all that remaining yumminess.
What's your background, how did you get into food?
I actually got into food by accident. I grew up in Singapore and I was a city kid to the bone. When I was in junior college I decided I didn’t like what I was doing. I felt like most of us at that age where I knew what I didn’t want to do but not really what I wanted.
My parents were very insistent that I get a degree in something. They thought that would let me have a fair advantage in a competitive world. I remember consulting my sister about it one day and she was on her laptop then and saw a CIA Singapore advertisement. She was so quick to say “what about culinary school? You could be a cook!” She was probably teasing me. I could barely scramble eggs. I applied anyway just to prove a point to my parents since they said I could get a degree in anything. When I got in, I guess it was a sign and I just went with it and luckily for me I’ve haven’t turned back since!
Tell us about your involvement with Smokebread and Bar Tartine.
I just finished working at a restaurant in Rockland, Maine and fell so deeply in love with people and the produce! I even got to kill chickens. It was so beautiful. I knew one thing which was I wanted to be somewhere similar but different. I heard about Bar Tartine and some wacky stuff they were doing. I knew they had an amazing reputation with fermentation and making things from scratch. I had a friend that worked there. He went to culinary school with me and basically got me into Bar Tartine. The chefs were Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns. They are crazy!!! I’ve never had food like that in my life. The kitchen was always bustling and you never really knew what was on the menu. One day your station could have black garlic potatoes with fermented ramp aioli and next day you could have pork loin cured in shio Koji. They kept you on your toes. I learnt so much from them.
I did all the stations and helped open Motze and then Duna right after where I got to be a Sous chef and now smokebread. Smokebread is such a different style of progressive restaurant. Everyone that works at Smokebread has to learn how to work everything. It’s fast casual but it also breaks down the barriers of “you are front of house” and “I’m the back of house" mentality. We are all one team and we do everything. From the food production to taking orders to washing dishes. It presents a whole lot of other challenges but it’s fun.
What do you love about living in the Bay Area?
So many things!! I just read Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City, a San Francisco atlas and it's mind blowing! But if I had to choose I have to say nature and my accessibility to it.