Escoffier Questionnaire: Jeff Cerciello of Farmshop Marin

By Marissa La Brecque / Photography By Andrea Gomez | December 01, 2015
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Jeff Cerciello of Farmshop Marin

In Farmshop Marin’s dining room, La Quercia’s highly regarded cured ham is thinly sliced on a pear and prosciutto pizza emerging from the wood-fired oven.

“You don’t need to make everything yourself, if someone else is making it beautifully,” says the restaurant’s chef and owner Jeff Cerciello.

The concept of Farmshop came from Cerciello’s desire to handle ingredients in a “totally new way.” That is a nimble feat for a cook with his resume.

Cerciello was a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, when he showed up at Spain’s El Bulli in his 20s with a few letters of recommendation and was warmly accepted as the first American intern in what became the most famous restaurant in the world. “Curiosity led me to Spain and I was shown a whole culinary world.”

Yes, Cerciello was there when El Bulli’s Ferran Adria received a foaming canister that launched the molecular gastronomy era of fine dining, but the kitchen he initially entered there was one of a more straightforward love of ingredients.

After a few years in Spain, Cerciello returned to his native California, where he served as sous-chef at the Wine Spectator–Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. He then moved a few miles south to the other most famous restaurant in the world, Yountville’s French Laundry.

Before long, Cerciello was involved in every aspect of the restaurant, moving on to become director of casual dining for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. In this role, Cerciello opened Bouchon and Ad Hoc in Yountville, as well as the other Bouchon locations in Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, and the Bouchon Bakeries in Yountville, Las Vegas and New York. He also co-authored the award-winning Bouchon cookbook.

His tenure with Keller, Cerciello says, gave him the confidence to start his own restaurant group, which he did in 2010 with the opening of Farmshop in Santa Monica. Cerciello’s third restaurant, Farmshop Tokyo, was christened in the fall of 2015.

Farmshop Marin, opened in 2013, brings big-city elegance to the Marin Country Mart with its late service hours, lively bar scene and confident décor. But there is also a handsome integrity to the whole operation that is absolutely born on this side of the bridge.

The curiosity that took Cerciello to Spain still guides him through the farmers’ markets that surround his California restaurants. Local produce, meats, cheeses and other artisan products sourced from County Line Harvest, Dolcini Ranch, Marin Roots, Della Fattoria, Cowgirl Creamery, Andante, Little Organic Farm and many others find their full expression under Cerciello’s care. The result is food that is wholesomely decadent.

Served on handcrafted dinnerware from Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics, accompanied by specially designed natural linen napkins from Commune, every ingredient in the Farmshop Marin experience crisply sings in harmony.

EMWC: What was the first meal you made that you were proud of ?

JC: Besides the traditional omelet or French toast I made with my father every Sunday morning, my go-to dish was red snapper, Veracruz style. I must have cooked this dish 100 times as a kid.

EMWC: What was your favorite food as a kid?

JC: The ham and cheese sandwich my mom made me for lunch everyday.

EMWC: What food do you wish you loved?

JC: Honestly, I like everything in varying degrees and can’t think of a food or ingredient I wished I loved.

EMWC: What food do you love unreasonably much?

JC: Chocolate. I’m a huge fan of Shawn Askinosie and his chocolates. His story, work ethic and charitable contributions are beyond inspiring. Last year he gave a lecture and tasting at Farmshop, which left everyone moved. [Askinosie.com]

EMWC: What is the most difficult cooking technique to do well?

JC: The most difficult technique is the one we have the least confidence with. Repetition is the key to gaining confidence.

EMWC: What are you exploring in your kitchen now?

JC: Fermentation. The health benefits are astonishing and I want our guests to benefit from fermented foods.

EMWC: What non-culinary influence inspires you?

JC: A good dose of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

EMWC: What is your idea of a very healthy meal?

JC: First, buttered coffee in the morning, then protein with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, in season. It’s astonishing how powerful you can feel if you feed your body well.

EMWC: What is your favorite ingredient?

JC: Presently, I’m very interested in persimmons and the art of hoshigaki. Hoshigaki is a Japanese delicacy made by gently massaging persimmons while they air dry.

EMWC: What is your favorite hangover meal?

JC: Eggs in any form with plenty of buttered toast. Note: The butter must be cool enough to slice like cheese and must never fully melt on the toast.

EMWC: What restaurant in the world are you most dying to try?

JC: Mugaritz, in San Sebastian, Spain. Antoni Luiz and I were roommates when we both worked at El Bulli.

EMWC: What kitchen utensil is most indispensable to you?

JC: Spoons, antique silver spoons.

EMWC: Whom do you most like to cook for?

JC: Anyone who is kind and gracious.

EMWC: If you could do one other job, what would it be?

JC: Surf photographer.

EMWC: What is your favorite midnight snack?

JC: Any snack others are cooking.

EMWC: What most satisfies your sweet tooth?

JC: Rocky Road ice cream or any variation of it.

EMWC: What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing?

JC: My mom’s ham and cheese sandwich and tapioca pudding.

EMWC: What’s your favorite place to go for (and what is your favorite thing to order) … … a splurge meal?

I would love to go to Benu. I have mad respect for Corey.

… breakfast?

Gjelina in Venice [California]. Soft poached eggs in a stew of lentils and braised greens.

… pastry?

M & H Bread and Butter [San Anselmo] for their almond croissant.

… a late night/after work meal?

In-N-Out burger.

… a cup of coffee?

Equator Coffee at Proof Lab [in Mill Valley’s Tam Junction] for espresso.

… a greasy spoon meal?

The Fremont Diner [Sonoma], however, I would never think of calling a colleague’s place a greasy spoon.

… groceries?

The Farmers’ Market on Thursdays and Sundays in San Rafael and the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays at the Marin Country Mart.

… kitchen equipment?

SHED in Healdsburg, the collection of Japanese products they carry is inspiring.

… ice cream?

Double 8 Dairy’s hazelnut gelato.

… chocolate?

Askinosie Chocolates—Dark Chocolate + Coconut Sugar & Toasted Coconut.

EMWC: And lastly but not leastly … what is your favorite local wine or beer for the season?

JC: ROOM Pinot Noir from our dear friends Andy Erickson and Annie Favia. And Headlands Brewing Company’s Pt. Diablo Dunkleweiss.

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