“I think the role of being a female chef is something that I never thought about, and I try to make everyone else forget,” emphasizes Suzette Gresham, executive chef of two-MICHELIN-starred Acquerello, located in San Francisco’s swank Nob Hill neighborhood.
“Women would come to me and say, ‘I just really wanted to work for a female chef,’” she continues, “…And I would say, ‘you don’t understand, I’m probably going to be harder on you than a guy. I don’t even mean to [be], but you gotta represent—I want you to really make it so that we belong here—so that this is our place and that it’s guaranteed and not a question mark anymore.”
Acquerello has been Gresham’s home away from home since its inception in 1989. When the MICHELIN Guide launched in the Bay Area in 2007, Acquerello earned a MICHELIN star, and held that status until 2015 when it was awarded a second. An industry vet, Gresham is one of three female chefs in the United States including Molly Nickerson of Marea and Emma Bengtsson of Aquavit, both in New York City, to run a kitchen that has earned two Michelin stars.
Gresham describes the food at Acquerello as “simple elegance,” with a menu showcasing both classic Italian dishes, as well as more technically-savvy, contemporary interpretations incorporating traditional flavors. Spinach creste di galli (cocks combs) pasta is served alongside Wagyu beef-studded Bolognese and served with whey, mint and peperonata, while creamy risotto is paired with local Dungenness crab. Of Italian cuisine, Gresham states that “the dish has become what it was and where it was from because of necessity—and there is a respect and a value to that.”
Acquerello celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Gresham, obviously a veteran in the business, rejects the idea that a kitchen be run by fear, intimidation and ridicule, and is determined to lead by example. “I find there’s a universality between trying to grow a better person, to grow a better cook, to make a better chef—which in the meantime, makes much better food.”