Bay Area Chefs Talk Lessons Learned After 1st Michelin Star

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It’s every restaurateur’s dream. When the annual Michelin Guide honors a restaurant team for their craftsmanship, this prestigious award makes all the hours of hard work worth it.

Last September, the Michelin Guide released its 2021 California winners list which included a slew of Bay Area restaurants. Many of its recipients were first-time winners, while some, like Adega, a Portuguese restaurant in San Jose, have regained their fallen star. For Marlena in San Francisco and Sushi Shin in Redwood City, winning the award was even more special as both businesses opened in 2020, a tough year to start a new business.

Winning a Michelin star is no small feat either. It starts with secret Michelin inspectors prowling the country looking at the specific key requirements a restaurant needs to be considered for the final list. In a 2018 post, the organization shared an overview of its evaluation process, which includes quality, mastery of flavors and cooking techniques, cooking personality, value, and consistency.

But what happens after a restaurant receives its first Michelin star? SFGATE caught up with six winners from across the Bay Area who recount the tough lessons and valuable takeaways they gained after winning the culinary honor.

Chef-owners Serena Chow Fisher and David Fisher at their San Francisco restaurant, Marlena, at 300 Precita Ave., San Francisco.

Tara Rudolph

Serena Chow Fisher, chef-owner of Marlena in San Francisco

When Marlena arrived on the scene in August 2020, Bay Area restaurants were just beginning to offer patio dining after previously relying solely on take-out or delivery orders. Hailing from former fine-dining stints in New York, chef-owners David Fisher and Serena Chow Fisher set out to revitalize the former Hillside Supper Club space in Bernal Heights and pioneered their take on California cuisine. A year later, they are added to the Michelin Guide.

“The most rewarding part of earning our first Michelin star was receiving recognition for many years of hard work,” Serena said. “Working in a kitchen means long hours…often for little pay and with a lot of guilt at having chosen to miss out on social and family obligations. Being recognized by the Michelin Guide is validation that the hard work has paid off and that those difficult times have played a significant role in a larger accomplishment.

Working amid the toughest months of the pandemic hasn’t been easy, especially for a new company. Serena shared that responding to the large influx of customer bookings after the award became something of a Rubik’s Cube.


“There has been a high demand for bookings at Marlena amidst a very chaotic time around the world. One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced since getting the Michelin star has been staff consistency,” she said. “While we were busy before the star, demand increased dramatically with recognition, and there were many nights where we had to limit our number of booking guests because we simply did not have the labor to engage more guests. It was a delicate balance of how to manage this demand while appealing to the different comfort levels of guests.

Adega, at 1614 Alum Rock Ave.  in San Jose, is one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in the country representing Portuguese cuisine.

Adega, at 1614 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose, is one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in the country representing Portuguese cuisine.

Michelle H. on Yelp

Carlos Carreira, co-owner of Adega in San José

Adega opened under the ownership of Carlos and Fernanda Carreira in 2015 as one of the few fine-dining Portuguese restaurants in the Bay Area. Ten months later, it landed its first Michelin star in 2016. Le Carreiras would eventually lose its Michelin status in 2018, but the restaurant was reinstated in the guide last fall.

“Our goal when we opened in 2015 was to be a neighborhood restaurant for the large Portuguese community in Silicon Valley,” Carlos said. “Finding the Michelin star was quite special. It came after nearly two years of the pandemic and at a time when bankruptcy was a real possibility. We decided that once we could serve our customers again, we wanted to give them [our] everything and if we were to go bankrupt, we would do so knowing that we did our best.

After his experience, Carlos learned that the Michelin star is not permanent.

“It’s surprising how many people think the Michelin star is an ‘eternal’ award. Most people don’t realize that restaurants are rated by the Michelin Guide every year and that’s the best way to inform diners looking for where to spend their money,” he said. “We must continue to perform at the highest level for our customers year after year and never rest on last year’s awards.”

Sushi Shin is at 312 Arguello St. in Redwood City.

Sushi Shin is at 312 Arguello St. in Redwood City.

Filip K. on Yelp

Jason Zhan, Executive Chef at Sushi Shin in Redwood City

Shortly after Sushi Shin opened in January 2020, its high-quality omakase experience was recognized by the Michelin Guide. Executive chef Jason Zhan said the accolade motivated him to expand his menu with dishes steeped in tradition.

“[I was] surprised that … more people recognize us,” Zhan said. “We were always fully booked before we got the Michelin star, so there’s no difference in capacity, but it makes me want to create more delicious dishes for customers. I continue to do my best and always maintain high standards for myself and for the team.

Niku Steakhouse Executive Chef Dustin Falcon.  Niku Steakhouse is located at 61 Division St. in San Francisco.

Niku Steakhouse Executive Chef Dustin Falcon. Niku Steakhouse is located at 61 Division St. in San Francisco.

Joe Weaver

Dustin Falcon, Executive Chef of Niku Steakhouse in San Francisco

Dustin Falcon has spent nearly the last decade in some of the Bay Area’s most acclaimed restaurant kitchens, including The French Laundry and Lazy Bear. When he joined the Omakase Restaurant Group’s Niku Steakhouse, Falcon’s culinary panache helped the Japanese fusion steakhouse achieve its first star.

“It brought me great joy to see the staff come together to celebrate our Michelin star after all the hard work we’ve put in to make it a reality,” Falcon said. “Our team has always aspired to deliver a high-level experience for our customers, even before Michelin was on the horizon, and now to be one of the few Michelin-starred steakhouses is very special. Along with celebrations with the staff , I also framed the letter I received from the committee – the arc of our culinary journey never fails to amaze me.

After the recognition, Falcon did not anticipate the influx of messages from vendors who wanted to work directly with Niku Steakhouse.

“Our Michelin-star restaurant status has thrust us into a new kind of spotlight. Many different food vendors and vendors started approaching us about partnering, but ultimately we decided to stick with the farmers and vendors who had been with us from the start.

Falcon added that winning the award was an incredible experience, but also an experience that added stress.

“On a personal level, winning a Michelin star has allowed me to put even more pressure on myself [because] we are now representatives of the Michelin Guide,” he said. “I try to remember that we don’t need to change – our hard work and attention to detail is what got us here in the first place.”

Selby's, a 1930s and 1940s Hollywood style restaurant, is pictured in Atherton on Thursday July 18, 2019.

Selby’s, a 1930s and 1940s Hollywood style restaurant, is pictured in Atherton on Thursday July 18, 2019.

MediaNews Group/East Bay Times v/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Tim Stannard, owner at Selby’s in Atherton

Selby’s opened in 2019 as a dazzling 1930s-themed concept in a huge space at 3001 El Camino Real. Owner Tim Stannard was delighted when Selby’s joined the Michelin Guide alongside other restaurants within Bacchus Management Group, which encompasses Selby’s.

“This is our first star for Selby’s, but the third star overall for our group,” Stannard said. “That said, winning this one was just as exciting as the first, especially after everything restaurants have been through over the past two years. To have the team at Selby’s recognized for all their hard work was incredibly rewarding and humbling. I’m so proud of them.

Barndiva is located at 231 and 237 Center Street in Healdsburg.

Barndiva is located at 231 and 237 Center Street in Healdsburg.

Lisa Lefkowitz

Jil Hales, Geoffrey Hales and Lukka Feldman, owners of Barndiva in Healdsburg

Barndiva has long been one of Healdsburg’s culinary destinations since it opened in 2004. Owners Jil Hales, Geoffrey Hales and Lukka Feldman were thrilled when it was finally recognized in the Michelin Guide nearly 20 years after it opened.

“We were amazed at the goodwill we felt from many long-time customers,” they said jointly. “They were just thrilled for us. We’ve always known we had a dedicated following, but we believe this award is also a testament to the exceedingly talented community of farmers, wine and spirits producers who have made this long journey with us. It’s so rewarding for every member of our team.

Winning the award was a source of pride, but not without headaches, as the team struggled to find enough staff to run the business comfortably.

“The hospitality industry was fragile before the pandemic, and what the past two years have shown with greater clarity is how crucial each member of staff is to a fine dining experience,” they told SFGATE. by email. “The biggest challenge is finding staff, especially people looking to make a career out of gastronomy. It’s especially acute in a small restaurant-rich town, like Healdsburg, where worker housing is scarce. We are fortunate to have built a dedicated team that shares our values ​​around sourcing and working sustainably at all levels of food production. »

Along the way, Barndiva has had its share of critics who have differing opinions about its Michelin star status. But the team also recognizes that in Healdsburg, with its food- and wine-savvy residents, it’s a challenge to wear that honor, but one they’re eager to showcase through their food.

“We are confident that Michelin knows what we offer is uniquely ours and they want to see us continue to achieve our version of excellence,” they said. “Barndiva believes in a comfortable yet elegant and sensually rich dining experience: food, wine, cocktails, flowers, lighting – these are all essentials. When we say ‘eat the view’, we mean it all.



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