The Escoffier Questionnaire: CHEF EVAN BLOOM
WISE SONS, LARKSPUR & SAN FRANCISCO
Every other Escoffier Questionnaire I have authored for Edible Marin & Wine Country has followed a cook’s journey through various kitchens and oftentimes even varying cuisines. The story of Evan Bloom of Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen is singular in that his entire professional culinary history is the exploration and evolution of one distinct idea: that Jewish deli food should remain present and relevant.
Delis represent the democratization of heimische (Yiddish meaning comforting, homemade) food, both curative and decadent. The service and ambiance also invite you into a sense of nostalgia that might not even track to your own personal memories. Brisket, matzoh ball soup and the ever-present background notes of chicken fat and caramelized onions are evocations of the Old World.
Evan and his brother and co-founder Ari, grew up in Ventura in Southern California. Evan moved to the Bay Area to study architecture at UC Berkeley. By the time he graduated in 2007, he had fallen in love with Northern California and remained in the area to work in construction management. Volunteer work with La Cocina, a high-profile incubator kitchen in San Francisco, soon led down the rabbit hole of food entrepreneurialism.
Evan’s involvement with La Cocina’s annual Street Food Festival introduced him to a world of bootstrap food brands that often had unconventional trajectories, many finding their audience before they had acquired buildings or logos. Evan and fellow Cal alum and Wise Sons’ third co-founder Leo Beckerman started making pastrami for friends, and before they knew it they were perfecting pastrami. It was a short hop from there to deli-themed Off The Grid pop-ups serving pastrami sandwiches, corned beef hash and other offerings produced by deli-denizen friends like Beauty Bagels and Marla Bakery’s chocolate babkah.
In the new generation of event-based food brands, a devoted following begets the move to a permanent address, rather than the other way around. By 2012, Wise Sons’ following clearly justified a delicatessen with a door.
Their 24th Street location in San Francisco’s Mission District was lineout-the-door popular from the get-go. Though some thought their artisanal food (and the prices that sometimes go with artisanal food) would bring too much bourgeoisie to the Mission block, Evan says Wise Sons was quickly warmed to by the residents. The neighboring hair salon has a lunch tab.
Recollecting the opening of that first location brings memories familiar to any business owner of those heady early days. In the case of Wise Sons, that meant designing and building out the space, cooking all day, mopping at night, gaining new insights every day. These days, Evan spends more time leading than cooking on the line, but the recipes all come from his distinct take on Jewish comfort food.
In the last five years, Wise Sons has added five more locations, including a commissary kitchen, an outpost in San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, farmers’ market stalls, a bagelry in Larkspur’s Marin Country Mart and Wise Sons Bagel & Coffee in Hayes Valley. Each brings its own unique character and offerings befitting the neighborhood in which it is located. The Marin Country Mart bagelry serves open-faced bagels topped with schmears (including the very au courant smashed avocado or spicy harissa) and house-smoked lox or pastrami salmon; bagel sandwiches filled with traditional deli scoop salads like smoked trout; matzo ball soup; and fresh salads including Kale Caesar, Chinese Chicken Salad and Country Club Cobb. Oh, and deli sweets and pastries like coconut macaroons, rugelach and babka—cinnamon or chocolate (made with Guittard chocolate).
Evan has formative memories of the iconic Los Angeles delis he visited growing up, but his origin story keeps returning to Grandma’s house. His now-102-year-old grandmother still hosts the family’s high holy days celebrations, and food has always been central. “Yeah, her brisket recipe was off the onion soup mix box, but it was good.” Hanukah always featured latkes and mock chopped liver (or, as Evan’s uncle dubbed it, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Liver”).
At Wise Sons, Evan and his co-founders and staff have accomplished their mission of ensuring that Jewish deli food remains present and relevant by creating thoroughly modern delis that draw you into the storied timeline of bagels, bialys and babkah.
Edible Marin & Wine Country: What was the first meal you made that you were proud of ?
Evan Bloom: I used to make my dad dinner when he’d come home from work. I’d wait at the door with a kitchen towel over my wrist and lead him to his “table.” I particularly remember a sandwich that I had decorated with grapes. I was very proud.
What was your favorite food as a kid?
My mom used to make me a dish that she ate growing up, something with Eastern European origins … warm noodles with sour cream and cottage cheese, and when I got older I put in a little black pepper and nutmeg. It’s still one of my favorite things to eat.
What food do you wish you loved?
Hardboiled eggs. I detest them, but on paper they make up so many of the things I love.
What food do you love unreasonably much?
Parmesan cheese. If it’s out on a cheese board, I’ll eat it nonstop. When I’m making pasta, I’ll cut off a big chunk just to eat while I’m cooking. I love the umami flavor.
What is the most difficult cooking technique to do well?
Seasoning! I know it’s basic but so much food doesn’t get tasted or seasoned at all. Salt changes everything and brings out flavor.
What are you exploring in your kitchen now?
I cook a lot of Korean food at home, since my wife is Korean. There is so much more to it than kimchi and barbecue! My mother-in-law brought back some fancy fermented bean pastes for me from Seoul and they have so much depth and flavor!
What non-culinary influence inspires you?
I studied architecture in school and I’m very interested in the way that people interact with space and other people and how that affects their meals and tastes.
What is your idea of a very healthy meal?
Roast chicken and an arugula salad. Can’t beat a well-seasoned roast chicken!
What is your favorite ingredient?
My Wise Sons team would say that I put dill in everything. I think the flavor of fresh dill is such a great accompaniment to so many things, and it works in a variety of cuisines. For example, it’s great in matzo ball soup and a Vietnamese stir-fry.
What is your favorite hangover meal?
A club sandwich from hotel room service
What restaurant in the world are you most dying to try?
Hummus and Pita in the Old City of Jerusalem. There are a few famous spots, Abu Shukri and Abu Hasan (as well as others), which I’d also like to try.
What kitchen utensil is most indispensable to you?
Spoons. You can do anything with a good spoon; it fits in your pocket, and allows you to taste every step of the way.
Whom do you most like to cook for?
If you could do one other job, what would it be?
A history teacher. I’ve always been a bit of a history nut and I think we need to learn from the past.
What is your favorite midnight snack?
Kimchi fried rice; we always keep microwave rice, bacon and kimchi in the house for this purpose.
What most satisfies your sweet tooth?
Dark chocolate, though I also have a soft spot for birthday cake (yellow cake with white vanilla frosting).
What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing?
Simple: a classic cheeseburger with American cheese and special sauce, fries and a Coke.
What’s your favorite place to go for … … a splurge meal?
Liho-Liho Yacht Club. The food has so much flavor, and so much soul!
Plow in Potrero Hill for pancakes and breakfast sausages doused in maple syrup
Marla Bakery in the Richmond in San Francisco for the “Marla Bun”
… a late-night/after-work meal?
Lers Ros Thai on Larkin for something spicy
… a cup of coffee?
Coffee Bar. I still love Mr. Espresso Oak Roasted Espresso in this world of third wave, single origin coffee.
… a greasy spoon meal?
Mission’s Kitchen Mexican-American diner on Mission Street in San Francisco—never-ending coffee
… ice cream?
Bi-Rite’s Chocolate soft-serve
And lastly but not leastly … what is your favorite local wine, beer or spirit for the season?
Matthiasson sweet vermouth for making Negronis