Curiosity is a characteristic we value at San Francisco Cooking School. We want our students to grow into cooks who wonder and tinker and chase the delicious.
With that philosophy in mind, we created the SFCS Curiosity Crawl. Each semester, we challenge our students to eat, drink, and be curious by way of this scavenger hunt. Curated by our chef instructors and staff, the Curiosity Crawl is a list of favorite bites in the Bay Area, hidden gems and food meccas to explore, and eye-opening recipes and pieces of writing to discover in our very own school library. Each visit and find is commemorated with a photo that we post on our Crawl Wall-some of our favorite pics are below.
This gratifying cycle of curiosity and discovery is something we hope our students continue long after they’ve checked off every item on this list.
Here’s what DJ, winner from the Winter 2015 class, had to say about his crawl to the top:
I moved to San Francisco in January, two days before school started, specifically to attend the pastry program at SF Cooking. I’d been following the San Francisco food scene from afar, but with a long list of places to try, I couldn’t even imagine where to start. Lo and behold, at the end of the first week of class, we were presented with the Curiosity Crawl. I’m as competitive as anyone out there, so this incredible list of 30 food items to try, a dozen places to visit, and 15 or so recipes to locate was my kind of thing. I now had a plan, a structure, and a ticking clock. Go time!
The crawl was a great introduction to my new city, and gave me a wide breadth of knowledge about the food scene in San Francisco. It also helped me get to know many of my classmates better as we’d often knock an item or two off the list together after school.
And what a variety of experiences I had! Some spots, I waited in line. Some spots, I was the only one there. Sometimes, a place was closed when I arrived, or sold out of the item on the list. It was stressful, it was delicious and it was a ton of fun. I would have to say that it was one of the best parts of my pastry school experience — even though it took place completely outside of school.
This crawl was one of the fun and unique things SF Cooking does that makes it stand out above the others. Participating in this delicious food challenge will forever be a favorite experience, not just in my culinary education, but in my life.
Without further ado, here’s the list — with some commentary from our past winners. We hope you enjoy our Curiosity Crawl as much as they did!
Vanilla Soft Serve w/ Olive Oil & Sea Salt, Zero Zero
When I started SFCS, I thought I was pretty hip to the San Francisco food scene. The Curiosity Crawl opened my eyes a bit. There were restaurants I had never heard of. There were restaurants I’d been to several times, but with menu items I had never tried. Once I started going through the list, I got so excited, things just accelerated. Some days I was hitting 3 or 4 places. Even my 8 year-old daughter was hooked. I knew we had hit our stride when we had the following conversation one day, as I was picking her up from school:
Me: So, you wanna grab a snack somewhere, some frozen yogurt, Arizmendes, something like that? (These were our usual choices.)
Ella: No. I wanna do something on your list.
Me: Well, we’ve checked off all the places nearby and don’t have much time.
Ella: I don’t care. I want something from the list. You’ve got to win.
Competitive little shit. So, across the city we went, hoping Zero Zero would be open for vanilla soft serve with olive oil at 3:30 in the afternoon. It was open. It was awesome. [Paul]
Burger, 4505 Meats
Fried Chicken Sandwich, Bake Sale Betty
By far, the biggest logistical challenge was getting to Bake Sale Betty. Having a full-time day job in SF made it almost impossible to get there, stand in line, eat the sandwich and make it back before my boss took notice. [Dario]
Focaccia, Liguria Bakery
Bahn Mi, Saigon Sandwich
Gamja Fries, Namu Gaji
Super Burrito, El Farolito
Porchetta Sandwich, Roli Roti
Waiting in line at the Ferry Building for Roli Roti’s porchetta sandwich, I thought to myself, “It’s just a pork sandwich. It can’t be that good, right?” Oh my…it was. It is. It forever will be. Juicy meat, crispy skin, delicious toppings. [DJ]
Fried Fish in Chile Pepper, Spices II
Onion Pancake, Old Mandarin Islamic
All-in-all the Crawl exposed me to cuisine and neighborhoods of the Bay Area that I would have never thought to go to. I had never tried such a diverse array of food. I felt like a tourist in my own city. [Dario]
Soup Dumpling, Shanghai Dumpling King
Kouign Amann, B. Patisserie
Baguette, Acme at the Ferry Building
Any Curry Dish, Kin Khao
Everything Croissant, Neighbor Bakehouse
Rebel Within, Craftsmen & Wolves
Points for shear technical marvel. [Paul]
Chocolate Chip Cookie, Merigan Sub
Pho, Turtle Tower
Breakfast Potatoes, Plow
The breakfast potatoes at Plow were one of my personal favorites, although you’re crazy if you don’t get the lemon ricotta pancakes too. [Paul]
Gougere, Tartine Bakery
Oysters, Swan Oyster Depot
Blueberry Mochi, Benkyodo Co
Honey Cake, 20th Century Café
Coffee Crunch Cake, Yasukochi
Frozen Greek Yogurt & Baklava, Souvla
Tea Salad, Mandalay
I’d never had Burmese food before, and I had no idea that what I thought would be just some sort of salad would actually be a combination of nuts and veggies and meats and peppers that made my brain sing and my mouth explode with the different flavors and textures. [DJ]
Charcuterie, Fatted Calf
The best eye candy was the Fatted Calf — hands down. I went in for the charcuterie and came out with truffled crepinettes. If I lived closer (and my current butcher wasn’t as awesome as they are) I’d be a regular. [Dario]
Bone Marrow, Monsieur Benjamin
Smoked Mashed Yams, Brown Sugar Kitchen
Economy Restaurant Supply
Alemany Farmers’ Market
Civic Center Farmers’ Market
Chocolate Making, Dandelion
May Wah Market
One of the highlights of the crawl was poring over the amazing collection of cookbooks at Omnivore, with four other classmates. Every minute, someone would call someone else over and say, “Hey! Check this out.” And the lovely woman behind the counter tolerating (and maybe even enjoying) our glee. Our energy levels may have been spiking as this came at the end of a doughnut/pastry crawl down 24th Street. [DJ]
Mushroom Selection, Berkeley Bowl
Used Cookbook Section, Green Apple Books
One of the most exciting discoveries was the used cookbook section at Green Apple Books. I ended up purchasing a mint condition copy of Larousse Gastronomique which sits proudly in my kitchen. [Dario]
Find & Buy a Mini Mandolin at Kamei Restaurant Supply
Looking through the incredible collection of cookbooks in the school’s library, hunting for the chosen recipes on the Crawl list, was the best scavenger hunt ever. I lucked out by finding a recipe in the very first book I pulled off the shelf, but it took some time to make my way through the whole list. I learned quite a bit, and was eager to return to the library and linger another day. [DJ]
A 19th Century Menu, pg. 586
Barmbrack, pg. 439
Boning Chicken in One Piece, pg. 266
Cannelloni with Swiss Chard and Walnuts, pg. 206
Classic Omelet, pg. 56
Glutinous Rice, pg. 279
Ichiban Dashi, pg. 148
Pigeon with Garlic Sauce, pg. 125
Salt Roasted Peach, pg. 953
Stewed Calf’s Liver, pg. 223
Turmeric and Cardamom, pg. 499
We’ll leave you with a few closing thoughts, and some sage advice, from Paul, winner from our current Part-Time Culinary class:
Culinary school is a major commitment. It takes time, money and effort. We’ve all signed up for that. As such, I think we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it. I would have finished the list whether I won or not. After all, when it comes to food, we live in an amazing place — the Crawl is a great opportunity to check it out. Just make sure you hit the gym along the way. ;-)
And because we love you, we are going to pay it forward one extra step and share this gem from Dario, another of our Crawl masters. Dario’s competitive advantage was his wife, who pushed him to victory and greatness by strategizing a plan of attack and creating this treasure map. Plan your work and work your plan. We like how you roll, Team Dario!
Have any suggestions on dishes or places to add to our Curiosity Crawl? Share them in the comments!