Food Secrets of Chef/Restaurateur Staffan Terje

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Staffan Terje. Photo: Frankie Frankeny
Staffan Terje at Perbacco. Photo: Frankie Frankeny

Chef and Restaurateur Staffan Terje likes it fresh at his Perbacco and barbacco eno trattoria "authentic Italian" restaurants in San Francisco. Why would a Swedish-raised chef choose to craft traditional dishes and recipes from "la cucina Piemontese?" Terje explained, "Italian food is the food that talks to me. You don't choose who you fall in love with. It just happens." Meat eaters of a certain breed may swoon to know that Terje has a curing room at Perbacco, used to make various salumi.

Perbacco is repeatedly listed as a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 pick. 7x7 named the Perbacco Salumi on its "100 things to try before you die" list in 2009, and Conde Nast Traveler in 2007 gave the restaurant a spot on the 95 Hot Tables list.

Terje grew up on his grandfather's farm in Sweden, and became passionate about food and eating at an early age. He was surrounded by farm fresh produce, and comes from a family that loved to cook and eat. In high school, Terje was required to apprentice. Many of his classmates chose to apprentice as teachers' assistants; he chose a local slaughterhouse instead. "I was a punk rocker and naturally wanted to shock my classmates." The tactic work, and in the process, Terje realized he had a knack for butchering and quickly picked up knife skills that serve him today. Following high school, he enrolled at the Hotel and Restaurant School in Stockholm, and apprenticed at the Michelin starred Gourmet Restaurant.

Terje has been cooking in the Bay Area since 1986. Before opening Perbacco and barbacco, he was the chef at Scala’s Bistro for seven years. He has cooked at the James Beard House. Terje was responsible for new restaurant openings, menu development and training with the Piatti Ristorante group in Yountville, starting in 1988.


Here are Terje's favorite Bay Area food spots:

Where do you like to shop for food?

My secret neighborhoods and places that I browse for food are Japan town, Nordic House for Swedish ingredients (I love that they stock all my favorite foods from my native home), The Spanish Table in Berkeley, and Tokyo Fish Market for an amazing selection of fish and Japanese ingredients.

Favorite local food & drink spots?

My favorite restaurants in the area are Chotto, Aziza, and Incanto. Each of these places has something unique to offer. At Chotto, I love their yakitori and ramen and the ambience is great. Aziza has amazing couscous, but quite frankly everything on the menu is wonderful, and Incanto makes a delicious spaghetti with tuna heart.

How about Mom and Pop joints?

The staff at Perbacco loves the dim sum from You's, so we get takeaway on Saturdays and enjoy it together before prepping for the night.

Guiltiest food pleasure?

Guilty, me? Never. But to be honest I do love Mast Brothers chocolate from Brooklyn.

Where do you live and where are you from?

I currently live in the South Park area of San Francisco. Not South Beach, South Park proper. I was born and raised in Nykoping, Sweden, which is about 50 miles South of Stockholm.

Any news on the horizon?

It looks like mostly travel this year. I am hoping to be in Italy early this summer, then on to Sweden and maybe Japan in the fall. When traveling to each of these locations, I am researching and gathering ideas and methods to bring home with me to uniquely incorporate them into what I do at the restaurant. It’s a time to get inspired.

Keep an eye on Terje's restaurants to see how these travels translate for eaters.