Long before COVID-19, married chefs Rupert and Carrie Blease had talked about turning their Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Lord Stanley into a dynamic, global culinary showcase. After several years of entertaining the possibility, plus two pandemic years of planning, the highly anticipated concept, called Turntable, debuted in September 2021 to feature emerging chefs from around the world in month-long residencies.
Turntable was inspired by the Bleases’ own culinary adventures around the globe; there was a 2019 stint at the PuXuan Hotel in Beijing, for instance, a one-night-only dinner in 2018 at The Seminyak Beach Resort in Bali, Indonesia, plus a spell at the Reverie Saigon in Vietnam.
“We know from experience what it’s like to cook somewhere completely different — a new kitchen with new equipment and new ingredients unique to the location,” Rupert tells Travel + Leisure. “It’s super refreshing.”
As part of the Turntable residency, visiting chefs are set up in an Airbnb within walking distance of the restaurant. To spark menu ideas rooted in the local harvest, the Bleases tour their international guests around Bay Area farmers’ markets and make introductions to key suppliers. And though Lord Stanley, the modern European bistro, is on an indefinite hiatus, Rupert continues to work in the kitchen at Turntable while Carrie still runs the front of the house.
Turntable began spinning, so to speak, with a series of chefs from Argentina’s hottest eateries. Inaugural chefs Mica Najmanovich and Nico Arcucci hailed from Buenos Aires, where their pop-up-turned-brick-and-mortar spot, Anafe, was recently praised by the World’s 50 Best list as “the most exciting new restaurant in Latin America today” for its fresh take on cross-cultural cuisine.
As a first course for their Turntable menu, Najmanovich and Arucci — partners in the kitchen and in life — served Los Clasícos de Anafe and Jewish deli-inspired bites including za’atar-spiced ricotta and peach chutney with warm challah. In November, Mercedes “Mecha” Solís of the revered Café San Juan, also in Buenos Aires, created a Turntable tasting menu to highlight Argentina’s Spanish influence (tinned seafood, for instance) and funkier parts of the country’s asado tradition (like blood sausage). Solís was also unavoidably delayed in crafting her legendary palm-sized alfajores— supply-chain issues hindered the stateside arrival of an off-the-shelf dulce de leche that the chef swears by.
Until Jan. 8, chef Sebastien Pourrat is using Turntable as a testing ground for his soon-to-launch Los Angeles restaurant Basqueria. “The Spanish part of the Basque region is more famous, but there is a French part that’s interesting as well, and where I’m from,” says Pourrat, a Biarritz native.
For an even deeper sense of place, the chef has incorporated Northern California ingredients into his Turntable menu, like Basque cheesecake made with organic cream cheese churned in Sonoma County or a stuffed Dungeness crab, caught by hand in the ocean waters off San Francisco. (In the Basque tradition, spider crab is the crustacean of choice for this holiday dish.)
Taking the baton on Jan. 11 is Lucho Martinez of Mexico City’s Em restaurant. Martinez’s restaurant books out two months in advance by diners keen to try the French- and Japanese-inflected Mexican cuisine, served omakase-style. In addition to a seated tasting menu for Turntable, Martinez will offer takeout servings of his Mexican hot chicken, inspired by the iconic original from Nashville, where the chef spent part of his youth.
For February, Turntable will host Eric Huang, a former sous chef at Eleven Madison Park who has recently opened Pecking House, a modern re-imagining of his family’s pandemic-shuttered traditional Chinese restaurant in Queens. Huang’s Turntable menu may include his salt-and-pepper duck drumettes or dirty fried rice with poblano peppers. And because back-to-back versions of hot fried chicken may be the key to keeping warm in San Francisco this winter, Huang will also offer his buttermilk-brined version finished with Tianjin chilis and Szechuan peppercorns — it comes with its own cult following, after all.
Based on Turntable’s early success, it’s no surprise that authentic food from — and inspired by — the far reaches of the planet has proven to be a much-needed quarantine antidote for travel-starved epicureans.
“Since people have been stuck at home for a long time, going out to eat seems more celebratory,” says Carrie Blease. “Having these chefs around for just one month makes the event feel even more special. That kind of enthusiasm translates to the table.”
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