This week on Chef’s Story, host Dorothy Cann Hamilton is in the San Francisco Bay Area to speak with Gary Danko, executive chef his own personal restaurant, Gary Danko, located in Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. Born and raised in the small town of Massena in upstate New York, he credits his parents for his strong work ethic in the kitchen. Learning the craft of cooking from his mother, Danko began his foray into food at The Village Eatery, a local eatery, at only fourteen years old. Always convinced of his calling, Danko enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After he graduated in 1977, Danko moved to San Francisco and spent the next three years working as a lunch chef at a small bookstore/bistro and as an expediter/waiter at the Waterfront Restaurant in the evening. He enjoyed this opportunity to explore the Bay Area, but eventually returned east to the traditional roots of his evolving style. Moving to Vermont, he became the chef at the highly regarded Tucker Hill Inn, where his creativity and distinctive style flourished. Afterwards, avidly following Madeleine Kamman’s career, he enrolled in her cooking school in New Hampshire where he distinguished himself at the school and at its adjacent restaurant, marking the beginning of a close friendship. Madeleine Kamman subsequently appointed Danko to Beringer Vineyards’ food and wine externship, which turned into an executive chef position at Chateau Souverain’s restaurant. After four years at Chateau Souverain, Danko left to become the chef of the Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, which then attained well-deserved status as one of the country’s finest restaurants and earned a rare San Francisco Chronicle four-star rating. In 1995, Danko won the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef – California” award. After leaving The Ritz-Carlton in 1996, he began working on a cookbook, and laying the groundwork for his own restaurant. In the interim he took on the challenge of launching Viognier, the restaurant at the new Draeger’s Market Place in San Mateo, California. After receiving a “Best New Restaurant” award by Esquire Magazine, he received a phone call from Michel Elkaim, the owner of Chez Michel restaurant in San Francisco, which brought Danko’s plan for his own restaurant to life. Within months of opening, the restaurant received the highest accolades possible from both San Francisco daily newspapers, and also winning the James Beard Foundation’s “Best New Restaurant” in May of 2000. Tune-in to find out how Gary went from waiting tables and working at a bookstore, to cooking at one of the most awarded restaurants known today. This program has been sponsored by S. Wallace Edwards & Sons.
“I was a pretrained student – I went to CIA for school, but Madeleine for finishing school.” [32:00]
“I am big on consistency, and familiar flavors. People keep coming back to your restaurant because they like the warmth and welcome of your famous dishes.” [47:05]
— Gary Danko on Chef’s Story