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Two Stars: 2017 Michelin Guide
Three and a Half Stars: San Francisco Chronicle

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Q&A with new Coi chef Matthew Kirkley

January 7, 2016

New Year’s Eve marked the final dinner service for Daniel Patterson at his seminal fine dining restaurant, Coi. The restaurant, which holds a perfect four stars from The Chronicle, is slated to reopen on Jan. 15 with an entirely new menu from Matthew Kirkley, formerly of Chicago’s L2O. We recently caught up with the new chef and Windy City transplant.

Q. How does San Francisco differ from Chicago for you?

A. The weather is probably the first thing that comes to mind, and honestly that really is a major differentiating factor. It is the climate around here that’s able to provide the kind of phenomenal product, and it is this area’s penchant for innovation, entrepreneurial-ism that’s driving the money that drives the fine dining industry out here.

That’s what’s exciting to me about being in San Francisco, that this is a much more food-centric city than Chicago. Don’t get me wrong; Chicago is a great food town in and of itself, but the commitment to product, and the ability to be able to draw from all the artisan farmers, and all the great stuff you can literally pull right out of the ocean here, it was exciting enough for me to move. Part of the attraction, when Daniel and I started talking about this, was that I was just as excited to see how my food would change cooking in an area like this.

Q. What will people notice that’s different at Coi in the post-Patterson age?

A. I don’t think that the food will become L2O-two. I think it’s going to develop on its own. One of the most alluring parts for me is that we’re going to find out what we become here. We’re following in big footsteps here. After the last nine years, Daniel has definitely created something very special here, and we hope to be able to follow in that tradition of sourcing from the area, taking inspiration from that and innovating, but still really delicious food

That’s one of my favorite parts about it and one of the most challenging parts about it, too. As far as aesthetics and feel of the restaurant, I want Coi to kind of still be Coi. I’m coming from a more traditional background than Daniel has. Daniel was really self-taught and has grown into his own style. I kind of missed the boat on the Spanish restaurants and then I missed the boat again on the Scandinavian ones — my biggest influences are restaurants from France from the ’90s, even all the way back to even nouvelle cuisine. That being said, we’re not going to be a classical restaurant either.

Daniel has a very minimalistic sort of style, which I also follow. I think that’s how we were really attracted to each other in the first place. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the cooking he’s done before, and I think he sees something in what I was doing at L2O that speaks to him. When you put photos of his food and my food next to each other, they’re quite different — but I actually think there are a lot of good common threads there.

Q: And how about the Coi tradition of nurturing young chefs?

A. I hope that tradition continues. Again, I’ve got big shoes to fill for sure. No doubt about it. I think that will probably be Daniel’s greatest legacy: his influence. This restaurant has never been the top of the pops — you know, the most celebrated, the most popular restaurant, as far as the local community is concerned. But I think that there’s been some really spectacular stuff as far as the cooking, as far as the people that have come out of this kitchen that will remain influential for a couple of generations here. Over the last nine years, the style of food that really started here has now become so commonplace that it’s kind of hard to see where that stems from — the original the root of the branch, if you will.

But also it’s the very people that worked here that kind of believed in his cooking that have gone off that has really popularized this current genre of back to basics: simplistic, vegetable-driven cuisine. That’s a lasting, resonating thing that we all kind of owe Daniel a dollar there.

He’s kind of like the Ramones. They weren’t commercially successful. They didn’t make a billion dollars, but there are a boatload of artists out there that all owe them something. And I think that Daniel’s that kind of chef. He’s not a household name, but to people that actually matter in the foodie community, everybody knows who that guy is. It’s funny; brilliance doesn’t necessarily translate to great commercial success.

— Sarah Fritsche

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