Stage Story: Christopher Huang

Christopher spent two months in San Francisco staging at both Saison and Pabu. During his stage at Saison, he learned the importance of organization and cleanliness at the highest level of cooking. While at Pabu, Christopher learned how to combine new flavors, helping him to discover the parallels in developing flavor across different cuisines.  


What made you want to Stage at both Saison in and Pabu in San Francisco?

I had set goals going into this experience, such as picking up new techniques in the kitchen, learning about how restaurants source and forage for goods, and seeing how restaurants create menu items. However, my overall goal was to find success in both a Michelin starred fine dining environment and something that is more casual but still produces amazing food. Saison and Pabu were the perfect opportunity to help me accomplish this. Saison is an incredibly special kitchen that is fully deserving of all of the accolades that it carries, and I certainly know that I will not forget the month that I spent at that restaurant. Pabu could not have been a more different experience, but was also an amazing one. 

Can you describe what you did during your Stages?

I started off my Stage experience at Saison. My first week began working with the commis team early in the morning. The AM commis team truly prepared everything and it was amazing to see the process of building the mise en place from the ground up. After the first two weeks the team at Saison was kind enough to slide me into a swing shift position. This was also a time when I was invited to join the AM sous chef Adam for his market trips and this was a very eye opening experience for me. 

Seeing service at Saison was also a very special experience. I had never worked in an open kitchen before so being in that sort of setting was really amazing – there was absolutely no barrier between the guests and the kitchen. Another amazing component to the this experience that I had was the more intimate connection between the front and back of house. Lastly, the dining experience regarding reservations was quite new for me. Due to the reservation configuration, the kitchen is able to provide what feels like a fully customized experience to each and every diner.  Saison was truly an incredible experience, my time there was as unique and special as I could have hoped for. 

I immediately went from working AM and swing shifts at Saison to working PM dinner shifts at Pabu, which was an unforgettable experience as well. I went from doing an extremely controlled 50 covers a night to over 200 covers with several private dining events. When I first began at Pabu I started as support and plate up help to the grill cook, but was quickly moved onto the hot line.  It was a very intimate team that was putting out tons of food for demanding guests in the Financial District area of San Francisco. The dinner service team was comprised of only 10 people. Because of this, the team was tight and well run which was amazing to see. The level of camaraderie in the kitchen was great. The team was truly family, and treated me as such while I was with them.

After spending a week with them in the support role, they moved me around the kitchen to the various stations. It was revelatory to see all of the cooks able and willing to work any of the stations that were in the restaurant and is something that I would like to take back to Del Posto with me. 

What stands out as some of the lessons that you learned during your experience?

Saison pushed my limits in regards to standards and accountability. They have immaculate practices when it comes to systems based things such as labelling, cleaning, and overall work practices. It was amazing being a part of the building blocks of service. Also, because there is absolutely no barrier between the guest and the kitchen at Saison, it felt much more as if I was cooking in someone’s home instead of the standard kitchen experience and in turn encouraged me to work quieter and cleaner that I ever had.

At Pabu, being in a Japanese focused restaurant also offered me the opportunity to work with many products that I haven’t seen before.  There were many things such as yuzu kosho, sansho peppercorns, and just different kinds of seaweed and kombu that I would have never had the opportunity to work with. This also opened up my pallet quite a bit as I was beginning to experience and understand flavors that I only had the opportunity to eat at other restaurants before.  The binchotan charcoal grill also provided another flavor profile that I was not exposed to before and I really enjoyed.  Working around and with those products enabled me to understand how many parallels there are to developing flavor across different cuisines.  The base product may be different, but no matter the culture everyone is trying to achieve balance between salt, sweet, acid, bitterness, heat, umami and everything else in between.

I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity, and to have travelled and worked across the country.  This experience exposed me not only to new materials and techniques, but also has opened my eyes to the spheres of the culinary industry that exist outside of New York. This trip was so important to expanding my knowledge and has made me want to continue improving even more than prior to leaving Del Posto for the trip.  Even more importantly, I cannot be more excited to bring some of the standards and practices that I’ve gained from my trip back to Del Posto.

Photos from Christopher's stage: