Stage Story: Samuel Meono

Samuel staged at Benu in San Francisco, as well as with the Crenn Dining Group, also in San Francisco. Samuel was able to see what the next level of cooking and service looks like, so that he can help push himself and those around him to strive for that same level of excellence.


What made you want to Stage at Benu and with the Crenn Dining Group?

I was fortunate enough to start my grant at Benu in San Francisco. I was interested in staging there because of Chef Corey Lee's reputation as one of the most technical chefs in the world. For the second half of my grant, I decided to stage with the Crenn Dining Group, also located in San Francisco. I chose the Crenn Dining Group because I knew I would have the opportunity to experience three different restaurants, each showcasing a different side of Chef Dominque Crenn.

Can you describe what you did during your Stages?

My first week at Benu was spent with the commis team. The commis team is in charge of receiving and properly storing all of the different food items that come in on a daily basis, as well as preparing stocks, breads, picking herbs, juicing, and knife work. In the following weeks, I rotated through the fish section, meat section, and pastry section. During my time with the fish section I was responsible for steaming the ham custard that is the base for one of the signature dishes, as well as assembling the vegetable sheets that go inside of the mussel delicacy. At the meat section, I helped with the preparation of the stuffed chicken wing. 

During service I made the pickle garnish plate that accompanies the quail dish, and helped with various things that were being cooked/colored on the binchotan grill. I'm not a pastry cook and have very little experience on a pastry section so I was happy to spend some time on that section getting mise en place ready for the pastry team to demo different recipes and techniques.

I started my time with the Crenn Group at Petit Crenn, the most casual of the 3 restaurants. It offers a seafood centric 5 course tasting menu with a few additional supplements. My time at Petit was spent working the grill station which was honestly a lot of fun. I was responsible for a seafood cassoulet that had grilled fish, mussels, tourne fennel, a seafood sausage, and butter beans. The grill station also picks up the cheese course, one of the additional supplements. 

After Petit Crenn, I spent some time at Bar Crenn, helping the team with anything that was needed from knife work, to shucking oysters, to plating food during service. the kitchen space at Bar Crenn is the smallest that I have ever worked in, but it allowed me to get to see everything that was going on during prep time and service. At Atelier Crenn, I was part of the commis team, but was also able to join service and help plate some of the food.

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

Throughout my time all the different kitchens I was able to experience first hand the level of commitment and excellence that is required to operate at the highest level. For example, at Benu they prepare a different menu for guests that have dined with them previously, to present a different experience that is still a reflection of Chef Corey Lee. In addition to that dedicated touch, everyday after staff meal, Chef Corey Lee plates the xiao long bao along with the chef de cuisine. Since everything at Benu is brought to the pass to be plated, Chef Corey is able to see and taste everything before it goes out to the guest, again reinforcing that if it's not the best it will not go out to a table. The techniques used at Benu are implemented in a way that reduces the amount of seasoning during service, which I had never seen but really liked.

With the Crenn group I saw the benefits of having a separate pastry kitchen. It allowed the pastry teams to work in the best conditions, to execute their work whether it was bread, chocolates, or pastries. In kitchens that share space, I have always found that pastry gets the least amount of space for the amount of product that they are asked to produce.

Working in different kitchens showed me how a chef can present different views on food through their different restaurants. Working along so many different people reminded me that we can always learn something from one another and that's one of the most rewarding things in the kitchen. Most of all, I believe this grant helped me truly understand the skill set that I currently have, which allows me to see what I want to improve on next with a clear vision of how I can do that.

Photos from Samuel's stage: