Chez michel

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In his European training and his broad work experience, Roberto Gerometta is representative of San Francisco's cosmopolitan cooking tradition and of the diversity found in the city's finest restaurant kitchens. Born near Venice, Italy, educated in France where he attended design and culinary schools, Roberto has worked in Europe, in the Bahamas, in New York City at La Caravelle, in Los Angeles at L'Hermitage, and in Seattle where he had his own restaurant. He is now in San Francisco, at Chez Michel. The restaurant is a beautiful showcase set beside cable car tracks leading down to San Francisco Bay.

Chez Michel is a pleasing blend of decorative fabrics, pale woods, and brass. Its two dining rooms, full bar, and airy spaciousness are redolent of contemporary French design elegance.

Particularly striking are vivid, multi-colored fabric ceiling panels.

Like a summer pavilion cooled by gentle breezes, the dining rooms beneath the fabrics are gracious and comfortable, enfolding the diner in a welcoming cocoon of contentment.

The restaurant's design is ideally suited to Roberto's talents.

Because the cooking area is open to one of the dining rooms, the chef is always on view. And because Roberto is a lively, personable man who works well under pressure, he thrives in the stage atmosphere of that kitchen.

The menu is principally Roberto's creation but is more a reflection of what the clientele want than what he would like to offer. Filet mignon, onion soup, rack of lamb, and steak tartare are expected. Roberto favors more variety but believes his customers are not yet ready for great inventiveness. Consequently, he seeks to marry traditional fare with new, subtle tastes.

For this menu, he decided upon a mousseline of frog legs and stuffed leg of duck. Then, as if to test the supremacy of his training, and in defiance of his own assertion that he really did not care for desserts, he executed the Progres au Grand Marnier, an elaborate, difficult chocolate confection. The success of the meal is an indication of Roberto's professional, polished approach to cooking.

Roberto comments frequently upon the quality of ingredients in California. He mentions specifically the white asparagus, formerly available only as a French import, and the fresh produce. But unlike many of his contemporaries, he is suspicious of herbs, which are gaining increasing popularity in many kitchens. "I'm not crazy about spices. They have to be used the right way. Sometimes people overuse spices, to hide something. You know, spices are our enemy sometimes." He also appreciates other advantages to living in California.

with his wife, he owns a house in a small town near San Francisco where he spends much of his time in the yard. "Gardening is my passion. I raise herbs, flowers, even olive trees." As he talks, Roberto gestures emphatically with his hands and emphasizes his thoughts with little puffs of air blown between pursed lips. Cooking has provided him a pleasurable life, but he has worked very hard for his achievements. He spent long hours as a young apprentice learning the intricacies of his profession, and he has little patience with the legions of amateurs who would open their own restaurants without sufficient training. "Sure, the dream of any chef is to own his own restaurant, but so many don't understand the pressure. You have to give up a lot, and you need dedication." Still, he finds great joy in the process of refining his skills.

"Anybody can cook. The important difference is to keep learning." He will spend hours perfecting a new menu item to please his customers.

"I think that's the surprise of a new dish. Something about which people will say. 'Wow, this is great.' That makes ME feel great." Menu: Chez Michel

Mousseline of Frog Legs with Fresh Pasta (Small mousse of frog legs served with fresh pasta and a white wine and butter sauce.)

Stuffed Leg of Duck with Red Wine Sauce Leg of duck stuffed with chicken livers, bacon, pork, and truffles, baked, then served with Volnay and duck sauce.) Progres with Grand Marnier

(Hazelnut biscuit topped with buttercream and chocolate mousse.) Source: Great Chefs of San Francisco, Avon Books, 1984 Chef: Roberto Gerometta, Chez Michel, San Francisco, CA From: Rob Stewart Date: 09-12-94

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