Chef Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA, California, Michelin Star, Ingredients, Five Star Mobil Rating, Chef of the Year, Relais & Chateau




Q. You serve caviar on your menu. For the budget conscious, what’s a delicious and affordable substitute?

A. The way the menu is structured you can choose from many high-end luxurious items – 3 course, 4 course or 5 course. But for those cutting their teeth on caviar at home, I would recommend they consider trying Hackleback Caviar or shovelnose sturgeon roe to be the best frugal gourmet option. It’s a great entry level product, helps the novice learn the nuances of Caviar while on a budget.  

The shovelnose sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus platorynchus, is the smallest species of freshwater sturgeon native to the United States of America. It is often called ‘hackleback,’ ‘sand sturgeon,’ or ‘switchtail.’

Q. If money is no object, what caviar would you suggest and what’s a great pairing?

A. Beluga 000 (triple zero) on a homemade buckwheat blini, served fresh from the skillet topped with crème fraîche, would be my choice. Paired with well chilled potato vodka such as Chopin.

This in my opinion is one of the smoothest vodkas, with its slight oiliness (characteristic of potato vodkas) that cut beautifully against the briny trait of black caviar. Slightly sweet and well-rounded with a hint of apple. Chopin has a medium-length, pleasing burn, but very little aftertaste—it's remarkably clean.

Beluga’s flavor is like the foie gras of the sea. Beluga, a carnivore, eats other fish. So its flavor is very buttery and fatty, but not overly complex. Wild Caviar flavor is in part what that sturgeon eats. They are working on and soon releasing in the US a farmed raised Beluga Caviar – hopefully we will be serving it at the restaurant soon.

Q. You’re quoted as saying “What we do here is definitely theatre. We work hard to ensure that each evening's 'performance' is seamless and magical." What tips can you pass along to people putting on dinner parties that they can use to create their own perfect theatre and performance?

A. When you entertain at home you want it to represent your style, personality, and be memorable. So when I cook for guest at home I pull out all the stops. I certainly would recommend hiring service staff to help prepare and serve the food and pour the wine.

I think it is important to set the mood with your choice of music, flowers and ambience. The lighting must be just right. This is achieved by dimming the lights and using candles throughout the house – lighting alone can make or break the mood. Your guest should walk into an enchanting environment. Even the bathrooms should have individual hand towels, the room as well enhanced with candles and flowers. I like to use essential oil to fragrance the bathroom, and usually chosen for relaxing properties – avoid gender specific scents.

I suggest greeting them with well-chilled champagne and some tasty bites. Start your party in one part of the house and when ready lead them into your dining room, which should be kept closed off until you are ready to invite them to be seated. The dining room should be a spectacular setting and as I stated, kept a surprise so that when the guest first see it – it draws immediate wows. 

The menu should be something that is thought out for the evening; again you may want to hire a chef or assistant. You should have a menu that allows you to be with your guests and not a slave at the stove. Soups are a great example of being able to be kept hot and ready to serve quickly. Roasts are a good choice since they generally are cooked and require a 30 minute resting period. I also stress on having hot or warm plates – use either the hot cycle of your dishwasher or, if they are all white (no metal), warm stacks in the microwave. I advise against trying out new dishes on guests, you can save this for more casual occasions. Have wines paired for the menu, you may need to rent glasses if you have multiple wines. End the meal with a dynamic and delicious show stopper dessert.   


Q. You recently pulled frog’s legs from your menu, are there other items you’ve decided to take off or are considering taking off for sustainability?

A. I removed them for health and safety reasons, as well as sustainability.  I saw a well presented and positive segment on public television that explained this phenomenon of disappearing and mutated species of amphibians and some of the diseases they carried. Different and more effective than demonstrators in front of the restaurant – the program presented changed my views and not being threatened and belittled.  


Q. My most sage advice for home cooks is:

A. That you should try new recipes and dishes and build your repertoire of dishes, working to get them as perfect as you can. Remember that you can always learn from your mistakes and a lot of mistakes can be repaired and many times can still be eaten.  


Q. The best thing you can buy for your kitchen with ten dollars is:

A. A 7-inch non-stick pan. I find it silly to spend a lot of money on an expensive non-stick pan since they can wear out if not taken care of properly. Once you have a scratch or two – and that is easy to do – the pan is pretty much semi-useless for omelet’s, etc. What good is a heavy duty stainless steel $100 non-stick pan that sticks!


Q. With a hundred dollars I would buy:

A. A good French Knife – choose the size that fits your hand best and one you can maneuver safely. I believe a cook only needs 3 knifes – A French knife, a pairing knife, and a long serrated knife. Of course, if you cook a lot, it’s fun and efficient to have different knifes.


Q. With a thousand dollars I would buy:

A. An array of cookware (pots, pans and baking sheets). I would refrain from buying boxed sets since they always throw in some filler pieces that don’t have a lot of use for. Instead pick out the 5 or six pieces that you need and will use time after time.

For soups and sauces, I select heavy well-built pans lined with stainless steel, a 6 or 7-inch non stick pans for omelets, crepes etc. For searing scallops or steaks, either a cast iron skillet or a thick rolled steel pan used in most commercial kitchens. For cookies and pan brownies, it would be what we call a half-sheet pan, made of aluminum – lightweight, won’t warp and a great even conductor of heat. Line it with parchment paper for non-stick baking. Buy lids for only the pans you need them for, since for they clutter up your drawers and cupboards.

Q. You mentioned using a French Knife, do you have a specific knife that you love to use?

A. French knife is a term used the same as a cook’s knife.

I tend to stick to traditional knives, a German or Western-style Chef’s knife. Younger generation chefs are passionate about Japanese Santoku knifes (all major international houses make them now), which have a more linear cutting edge, it has limited ‘rocking’ in comparison to a German or Western-style Chef's knife.

My choice really has to do with my training and my habits for a heavier knife. I find Santoku knifes limiting, but I am accustomed to German-style knives that use rocking for chopping things like onions. A Western knife slices downward and then rocks the tip forward to complete a cut; the Santoku relies more on a single downward cut, and even landing from heel to tip. Santoku knifes are generally lighter and shorter. It is a personal choice, so you will have 2 divided schools out in the audience.

Regardless of choice, one must NEVER put wood handles or any high-end knifes in the dishwasher. Wash and dry safely by hand. Also it is important to select sharpening steel that compliments your knife type – a steel keeps the blade aligned and sharp. This is different than sharpening, which depending on use and should only be done once a year.

There are three knives, 2 French or cooks knifes that I think are great for bread or slicing cake into thin layers. They include high priced, medium priced and a serrated bread knife.

For a high end everyday French knife, or as they call it ‘cooks knife,’ I like the Wusthof Classic Cook’s knife - 4582 / 23 cm (9”).

For less expensive everyday French knife, I use R.H. Forschner 10-inch Cooks Knife with rosewood handle.

Serrated knife, I like the R. H. Forschner Bread knife with fibrox handle.

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Q. Is there an ingredient or spice that you currently love that you would recommend using and why?

A. I have always had my favorites – coriander, for example, can be used in sweet and savory preparation – it combines well with cinnamon and nutmeg in breakfast buckwheat pancakes served with caramelized apples – it adds an intriguing fragrance and character. It plays an important flavor as well in savory duck confit, as well as other ethnic dishes and spice blends.   


Q. Are there foods that you love to eat that might surprise us... your guilty pleasure?

A. Gummy worms – it’s a textural thing!


Q. Is there a cookbook, new or vintage that is like a bible to you and why?

A. Madeleine Kamman’s The New Making of a Cook. It’s a rewritten and updated version of her original classic ‘The Making of a Cook’ which I first fell in love with back in the 70’s. I would read both the original first and then the updated. I studied with Madeleine who is one of the most brilliant cooks alive.

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Q. Any other exciting projects in your future?

A. A new casual restaurant in Ghirardelli Square, hopefully opening in 2011.


Q. What food purveyors inspire your creativity, which products, and why?

A. One of my favorite purveyors is Connie Green, owner of Wineforest Wild Foods in Napa Valley. She is long-time forager of wild fungi for some of the Bay Area’s top chefs. She has been selling her mushrooms for more than 20 years. She grew up in Florida, where she learned to forage from her grandparents. Connie has the best and varied selection of dried and fresh mushrooms around. She also supplies us with fresh hearts of palm, huckleberries, summer truffles, and stinging nettles. Connie and her staff, who are just as passionate about mushrooms, act as a reminder of what is in season. They will bring you some samples to try. Connie is not shy about keeping you informed about the supply and the quality of the products and will never try to even deliver a product that does not meet her standards.

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Q. Are there food markets around the world that you love?

A. I love visiting markets in other countries, particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and India. It is a feast for all the senses – body, mind and soul - you see life lived out in the markets, more so than in the US and Europe. In Asia everything goes. These are the places to bring a camera to.

Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam.

Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India – the busiest market.

Pasar Badung or The Central Market, Denpasar, Bali.

Muang Mai market – Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market Tsukiji Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. You may need to work on trying to gain entrance, as it is a wholesale market.

Great Market Hall or Központi Vásárcsarnok is the largest indoor market in Budapest. Order a glass of this beautiful Tokaji Aszú – the legendary Hungarian Sweet wine equal to that of Chateau Y’quem. Apple, Poppy seed or berry Strudel.

Barcelona's Boqueria Market of the Ramblas . Eat at Pinotxo Bar (Pinocchio) or at El Quim de la Boqueria, eat the Pan con Tomate, razor clams, calamares. At the market I head for the jamón Iberico and any other ham I want to try!

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Q. Where do you love to eat on your on dime in San Francisco and what do you order?

A. La Ciccia – Spaghetti with Bottarga, chicken gizzards – I have had them in two different styles and they are delicious and pretty much anything the chef recommends. They also do special nights where they do one seating and serve a menu themed around pork.

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Q. If we gave you a ticket to fly anywhere in the world to eat, where would you go and what would you eat?

A. In Paris:

Le Comptoir du Relais for Pig Trotters, Foie Gras Salad.

Le Chateaubriand.

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Q. Any favorite places to eat in your hometown (other than family) and what do you order?

A. In Massena, New York.

Village Inn: I order the classics that I grew up on Roast Turkey with Stuffing and Gravy – hard to find in any restaurant these days. The fried local perch caught in the St. Lawrence River. The Kielbasa sausages that they make during the holidays.

Violi’s Italian restaurant makes some amazing homemade pasta dishes.

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Chef Jimmy Bradley


Chef Gary Danko’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in San Francisco, New York state, Paris, Spain, Hungary, Japan, Bali, India, Thailand, Vietman.

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Fisherman’s Wharf


800 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA 94109 (view map)

T: 415.749.2060



Mon - Sun: 5:30pm - 10pm



Details of chef Gary Danko’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in San Francisco, New York state, Paris, Spain, Hungary, Japan, Bali, India, Thailand, and Vietman.