Kristoffer Toliao was born in San Francisco in 1983. When he was two his mother decided to move back to the Philippines, where he stayed in a wealthy garment factory family plantation until the age of 10, when his mother had a change of heart and sent him back alone to the US, living with his estranged sister in Norwalk CA. Moving from a life of luxury to hardship in a blink of an eye at such early age had a profound effect on his character: to this date, he has never called in sick at any school classes or jobs, including Cassava.
As soon as he became 16, the legal age to move out of his sister’s care, he began living on his own with his friends, working full time while going to high school. Feeling the need of having a trade skill to survive on his own, he contemplated between joining the military or going to culinary school after graduating high school, and chose the latter, starting at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena CA in 2001.
His externship became a full time employment at Bicé, an Italian restaurant in Pasadena helmed by an English Chef, Julian Baker. Under Chef Baker, Toliao learned the foundation and principles of a European fine dining kitchen. He moved on to work at Manhattan Country Club starting at 2004, where he worked under Chef Dominique Crenn for the first time. From this influential chef, now a worldwide sensation with two restaurants in San Francisco with two Michelin stars, Toliao learned the delicate Southern French style of cooking with more vegetables and seafood. Even while working at the country club full time, Toliao held two more part time jobs, working at Viceroy hotel prep graveyard shift and a French bistro where he would cook for 200 diners a night with just one other chef.
Wanting a change, Toliao decided to join the new restaurant opening in Los Feliz at Tiger Lily where he would meet his future wife Yuka Ioroi. He became the Chef de Cuisine under the chef owner Sumant Pardal after the first executive chef left, served his own menu and led a working kitchen for the first time. Chef Pardal’s versatile use and vast knowledge of spices from his Indian culinary background gave Toliao a brand new set of flavor profiles to incorporate in his future cuisine. He moved on to Beverly Hills Hotel after Tiger Lily underwent a downsizing and concept change and worked there until Chef Crenn asked Toliao to join her as her sous chef at the new InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco in 2007, the restaurant that would become Lucé.
It was during his time at Lucé, when Chef Crenn garnered her first Michelin star, competed on an Iron Chef episode on The Food Network and built her foundation for the stardom she enjoys today. Toliao crafted tasting menus under Chef Crenn that defined the cuisine at Lucé, cooked at James Beard Foundation, cooked for President Obama, and met many fine food purveyors, building lasting relationships that enables Cassava’s current access to some of the best of the Bay Area’s ingredients.
Making his lifetime dream come true, Toliao moved to Tokyo in 2010 to stage at a Kyoto kaiseki restaurant called Kikunoi, a two star Michelin restaurant. This was the very first restaurant where he witnessed chefs doing more than just cooking to achieve the highest form of hospitality; not only serving the tables, but also explaining the dishes to the diners, learning about the pottery styles and regions, as well as ikebana arrangements and sake. During his 2 months stay, he found his ideal style of kitchen and he felt ready to open his own place. The Japanese cooking training he received at Kikunoi gave him another set of skills up his sleeves, notably showing in Cassava’s popular Japanese breakfast with pickling and fermentation techniques.
Toliao found his ideal location on the quaint Balboa Street in the Outer Richmond in 2011 and opened Cassava with his wife. Since the restaurant’s opening, Toliao has been recognized as one of the up and coming chefs in San Francisco by diverse media outlets including The San Francisco Chronicle, Opentable, Starchefs and more.