Chef Alicia Jenish’s Misfit Dinners, Mentors and Bay Area Food Favorites

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 9 years old.

Alicia Jenish at Grand Cafe. Photo courtesy Grand Cafe

Alicia Jenish, 34, has been the executive chef of Grand Cafe, the Union Square modern French brasserie, since late last year.

Jenish’s food is both rustic and refined and popular menu mainstays like bouillabaisse, flatbread and steak tartare show off her culinary finesse. Healthy dishes show up as well: black kale salad or garbanzo and black lentil fritters with tahini yogurt sauce (see recipe below) are reminiscent of falafel.

The chef also brings charcuterie and whole beast “head to tail” dining to Grand Cafe, where she has more adventurous dishes that are rooted in centuries-old French tradition. Her whole beast dinner menus are an homage to “animal misfits” that include goat, rabbit and lamb. For a recent misfit dinner, goat from McCormack Ranch turned into goat sugo over house-made pasta, goat tartare and grilled goat chops. All of the misfit dishes are available a la carte, and the misfit dinner runs Thursday, April 19 through Sunday, April 22. The rabbit is from Anderson Avilla and rillette, charcuterie and rabbit ballotine are all in this misfit mix.

Jenish was raised in Cleveland and Tucson, and said that she went into cooking because she’s loved it since she was a little girl. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had. I fell in love and stuck with it.”


Before landing at the Grand Cafe, she was the opening chef for Revival Bar + Kitchen in Berkeley, where her head-to-tail dishes were well received. Earlier stints include working with Charles Phan and Loretta Keller at the Academy of Science museum, and for Phan’s Out the Door Westfield. She was the executive sous chef of Lark Creek Steak, and chef de cuisine for Robert Cubberly at Le Petit Robert for over four years. She has traveled, cooked and eaten her way through Italy, France and Spain and worked as a butcher at Marsha McBride’s Café Rouge in Berkeley, where she mastered charcuterie. Jenish graduated at the top of her class from The Culinary Institute of America in 1999. Jenish was interviewed for Bay Area Bites via phone and email interview.

Why are you doing the misfit menus? Tell us more.
I like to stay creative, step out of the box and have fun! We’ve had a really good response to the misfit dinners. People came in specifically for misfit dishes, and the goat tartare was hugely popular. I love goat tartare and lamb tartare but was surprised at how quickly the orders flew out of the kitchen and sold out.

For the rabbit misfit dinner, I really like to do rabbit ballotine. I have done a lot of it throughout my career. The rabbit sugo was something new.

Who are your mentors?
Loretta Keller, Charles Phan, Robert Cubberly, Chris Cosentino and Janos Wilder. Charles is always tough to catch which is why he’s the infamous spotted owl. When I worked for him, a friend of mine and I used to say to each other, “I saw him! Hey!” like you would with a spotted owl.

With Robert, I will call him. He’s old school. I can text Chris. I started as an intern at Janos and still talk to him when I go home.

What are your favorite spots for food?
Haight Street Market: their produce and wine selection are really awesome. For wine, they have an inexpensive unique selection. Their deli is good, too. It’s totally family run, and you see the grandkids there and it’s packed. They have the best BLT. It’s a ten minute walk from where I live in the panhandle.

Civic Center Farmers' Market: I go there for Tuesday's Off the Grid, for pork belly and spicy chicken bao from Chairman Bao.

Noe Valley Farmers' Market: such a nice selection, and it’s not as popular as other markets.

Bar Jules: any pasta they have on the menu. They make the best soups!

Nopa: their little fried fish and pork chop.

Southpaw BBQ: the best ribs in SF! It’s my friend Edward’s spot. We worked together at Le Petit Robert. They have a cocktail called the Safe Word (laughs).

What is your favorite meal to have with your family?
My mom and I love to make cioppino together. My mom’s a really good cook who loves Julia Child. She lived in France for year.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Cheese! The higher fat the better! I’ll take any cheese with triple cream, and really go for it.

Garbanzo and Black Lentil Fritters with Tahini Yogurt Sauce

Chef Jenish created garbanzo and black lentil fritters because "I really like garbanzo flour and black lentils. The dish is gluten-free, which we have a huge demand for."

Recipe: Garbanzo and Black Lentil Fritters with Tahini Yogurt Sauce

Yield: about 12, 3" triangles

1 gallon water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds chickpea flour
4 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons cumin, toasted and ground
1 cup parsley, chopped
2 cups black lentils, cooked
salt to taste

In a small saute pan, cook the garlic in a little oil until golden brown. Cool.

Lightly oil two half sheet pans and set aside.

In a small pot, combine the water, chickpea flour, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. When the mixture thickens, add all the remaining ingredients. Immediately pour onto prepared pans and smooth evenly. Cool completely before cutting.

Tahini Yogurt Sauce

32 ounces Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons garlic, rasped (using a microplane)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and serve with fritters.