Liam Mayclem covers food in a fun and diligent fashion. He is widely known around these parts for his work as an Emmy award-winning host and a producer for CBS 5 TV’s "Eye on The Bay" and Foodie Chap series. Mayclem is a familiar face because he seems to say “yes” to it all: emceeing food and music events, acting in TV commercials and traveling. Now, Mayclem has a new project that will have him interacting with the public in an intimate fashion. Culinary tours are all the rage now and Mayclem has signed a deal to host "Inside the Kitchen" tours with The Ritz Carlton hotel in San Francisco, a natural fit given his years touring restaurants and kitchens for TV shows. The tours begin this month for the public, but one recent private tour guest was actor Jason Priestley, who was in town filming a Canadian TV show in which Mayclem's food tour is included in an episode.
Bay Area Bites caught up with Mayclem to talk about his latest project and get his thoughts on current food trends and favorite food haunts. His comments have been edited for content and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: Tell me about filming with Jason Priestley for a Canadian-produced show called “Hollywood & Vines.”
Mayclem: I took the 90210 star for a tasty stretch of 94110 -- Valencia in the Mission. Jason loves his food and wine and his knowledge runs deep, especially with vino. We stopped at four spots on our walkabout: Mission Cheese (wine and fromage), Abbot’s Cellar (beer paired perfectly with seasonal offerings), Tacolicious (tequila & tacos), Craftsman & Wolves (sweet ending & vino).
Jason was particularly impressed with the Pasion Margarita at Tacolicious. This bright yellow cocktail sings “drink me” the moment it appears -- it’s just so darn inviting. It tickles, then burns, hangs in your chest and overstays its welcome. Jason referred to it as “Deep Spice -- the fifth Spice Girl, so lovely when you first meet and then she grabs you by the throat and takes you down.” Needless to say we were all keen to order another after the first one settled but sadly there was filming to be done and we marched on, the grip of “Deep Spice” still with us. This episode featuring my Valencia Street Food Tour will air across Canada and internationally in October.
Bay Area Bites: How did you get involved with the food tours at The Ritz Carlton? Can you talk about food tours as a trend?
Mayclem: Joyfully, I have been doing culinary tours of the Bay Area on TV for eight years as part of “Eye on the Bay,” showcasing the best of our culinary universe: food trucks to fine dining, pop-ups to permanent mom & pops. The idea of doing an actual walking tour with a real live group had never really occurred to me. There are many who do it really well (Avital Tours for example) so why crowd the space? However over lunch with Diana Haven, a PR pal and my former booking producer at TechTV, the topic came up about a partnership with The Ritz Carlton-San Francisco and a series of walking tours curated by me. It seemed like a great way to share my knowledge, my passion and my relationships with chefs and purveyors with others. People visit San Francisco by the busload to eat and drink. There is much to show off here and I do it with pride.
So I went away and designed four unique tours, each one with additional elements, such as special guests (such as Ben Fong-Torres for the Chinatown tour), a hands-on experience (for example, Pizza making at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana) and a post-tour chef's table dinner with Chef Michael Rotondo at Parallel 37 at The Ritz Carlton-San Francisco. There will also be a surprise each week, which of course I cannot reveal but you can book a spot on the tour and find out! The first tours are Valencia Street: Gourmet Corridor (August 10); A Taste of San Francisco (August 17); San Francisco’s China (August 24); and The Craft of the Cocktail (August 31).
Bay Area Bites: What are the other food & drink trends you see these days?
Mayclem: The food truck trend continues with a new one popping up every week. They bloomed at a time when the economy was tanking and “cheap eats” became the order of the day.
Then there are pop-ups, where inspired chefs pick a spot for a one-night food event. Ravi Kapur did a series. Other favorites are Rice, Paper, Scissors and Creole night at The Residence.
Being bi-coastal is a trend -- Danny Bowen of Mission Chinese, the original pop-up chef, now has a second Mission Chinese in New York. And the New York food festival, Lucky Rice by Danielle Chang, celebrating Asian-inspired cocktails and eats, is coming to the Bay in September, as well as to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami.
The “bar chef” is celebrated as much as the food chef by many and that’s a rather cool thing. There is communication between the kitchen and the bar today that perhaps did not occur a few years ago. Bartenders who make crafted cocktails are sourcing ingredients from farmers’ markets in the same ways chefs do and that’s a grand mark of progress. Props to Scott Beattie (Goose & Gander), Greg Lindgren and Jon Gasparini (Rye and 15 Romolo), Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin (Comstock Saloon) and The Bon Vivants (Trick Dog) for leading the charge, raising the bar and staying true to their commitment to quality-crafted cocktails. The reward for us is that many one-time bartenders at joints owned by others now have their own spots to fully express their cocktail flare. Aren’t we lucky? And all their spots have good eats to soak up the cocktails... but it’s cocktails first and then the food!
Bay Area Bites: You were on Check, Please! Bay Area. What was that experience like?
Mayclem: Being on Check, Please! was a treat because for once I got to speak my mind as a food fan in a loose space and in the company of my pal Leslie Sbrocco. She is a lovely lady who enjoys food and vino as much as me. I adore her. I spoke of my love for Chef Roland Passot’s La Folie and argued the merits of the tasty voyage of culinary discovery with every dish, as another guest complained about the food at La Folie being bland. Needless to say, it was a spirited and fun experience, and led to the only time a viewer has ever yelled at me: “You are a bully and a snob,” shouted by a female cabbie as she sped away, soon after the airing of the episode. She may have been a pal of the guy at the Check, Please! table with opposing views and taste buds! We taped the show four years ago and people still bring it up. Clearly Leslie has an army of dedicated disciples... I mean viewers!
Bay Area Bites: Do you cook at home?
Mayclem: I do cook, but not a lot. Why cook when I can choose to eat out at any one of the 4,200 restaurants in San Francisco any night of the week? With all the hours I have spent at the side of Michelin starred chefs I should be a culinary whiz in the kitchen, but alas I am not. However, I do cook a mean and, dare I say it, terribly tasty Shepherd’s Pie, a dish my mother cooked often growing up in Ireland and England. I always have to explain to people Shepherd’s Pie is cooked with lamb and Cottage Pie with beef. I once partnered with Chef Roland Passot in a Foodie Chap Shepherd’s Pie cook-off against two Michelin starred chefs Dominique Crenn and Chef Russell Jackson (now on the Food Network). Team Mayclem & Passot took home the top prize -- it was the foie gras and truffles that won over the judges. Being a gent I gave my trophy to team Crenn & Jackson. But I will forever enjoy the bragging rights -- Best Shepherd’s Pie with Chef Roland Passot.
Bay Area Bites: Who is your partner and how did you meet?
Mayclem: I have been with my partner, photographer Rick Camargo, for seven years. We met at a BBQ at a pal's house in 2006. It was love over steak and we have not looked back. He drives me, inspires me, supports me and puts up with me. I am a most lucky man.
Bay Area Bites: What are your favorite food haunts and how did you get so interested in food?
Mayclem: Here are spots I have eaten at recently and enjoyed:
- New spot: Coqueta. Every dish was bangin' with flavor.
- At the counter: Slanted Door. Bartenders with tenure and mad bar skills -- and you can eat the whole menu.
- Cheap eats: The Galley at Clooney's with Chef Justin Navarro-- pub grub with flair and surprises. His French onion soup sandwich -- wow!
- Neighborhood spot: Rich Table in Hayes Valley: Solid food with a non-fussy inviting vibe.
My love affair with food began in 1988 when I moved to France for a job as a journalist on an Anglo-French radio station. A dish called Veau et champignon a la crème changed my life. It was my introduction to French food and the culinary love fest was on. However, I credit the 200-plus chefs I have interviewed for “Eye on the Bay” and on KCBS as the Foodie Chap as the real reason I appreciate food and have a love for the culinary arts. These hard-working men and women are steadfast in their commitment every day to quality on every plate at every service. They have taught me to appreciate the purveyors and farmers, without whom we would have no reason to eat out. We are spoiled here, so very spoiled, with the abundance of fresh food, quality chefs and diversity of cuisine. My curiosity regarding all things culinary became an interest, a love and a passion.
Bay Area Bites: You do a lot of charity emcee work and acting. What have you worked on recently and what is in the immediate future?
Mayclem: My spare time is filled with charity commitments and I have my favorites. I recently hosted La Cocina’s Gala Dinner. What a special night in the company of amazing women who came to America as immigrants and now, with a some guidance from La Cocina and a kitchen to work out of, they are in business and thriving. I also hosted events recently for SF & Marin Food Bank, Project Open Hand, SF CASA.
I hope to launch a TV version of Foodie Chap in the next year. A solid local show committed to food and chefs would be great and I hope to be able to bring that to air on TV or your tablet in 2014.