Oakland is certainly not a foodie scene to shirk at; big flavours, big characters and a whole lot of passion really does seem to be the recipe for success. Step in Chef and restaurateur, James Syhabout, the (relatively) new kid on the block whose restaurants, Hawker Fare, Commis, The Dock at Linden Street and Box and Bells, are all taking Oakland by storm.
Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Syhabout moved to California when he was two and is proud to call himself an authentic Oaklander. As a boy, his mother worked in a Thai restaurant and this has certainly influenced his cooking today – cooking techniques, such as fermenting, pickling and blanching with oil is evident in his work. He also has access to California’s bounty of produce, as Oakland is a prime location for sourcing the rawest of ingredients; meat, poultry, fish and fresh produce from nearby countryside are all easily sourced from the weekly farmers’ markets.
A fresh perspective
Syhabout’s fresh vision on food has changed the preconceptions of the much maligned city and is now helping to raise its profile as a solid contender on the country’s culinary map. At his two Michelin Star restaurant, Commis (famed far and wide) expect delicate flavours, edible flowers and attention to detail. But he isn’t a one trick pony; his more casual, street food style restaurant, Hawker Fare, is located on the site of the Thai restaurant where he learnt from his mother. Expect a laid back joint, serving rice bowls alongside a playlist of hip hop. Locals love it because of what it is, rather than anything it’s trying to be; the simple dishes hark back to his roots and eating with your hands is actively encouraged.
Watch this space
It seems Oakland wouldn’t be the foodie place it is today without the input of Syhabout. His mark on the culinary scene has been big; his approach to cooking is fresh and exciting and is helping to redefine the city. Rather than cooking with ingredients (he does do this, don’t worry, it’s not all sorcery) he thinks about cooking with flavour profiles. We think whatever he’s doing is pretty epic and something that needs to be discovered further. Watch this space; it seems Oakland has a new rising star that is taking it with him.