At the one-MICHELIN-starred restaurant Birdsong in San Francisco, “if a pot boils, it’s a mistake.” These are the words of executive chef and owner Chris Bleidorn, who combines Pacific Northwest culinary techniques (cooking over a live fire, fermenting and dehydrating) with revered, sometimes endangered Northern California ingredients (Mendocino seaweeds, wild coastal mint and Mount Lassen trout, to name a few from his current tasting menu).
Slow cooking is part of what defines Birdsong’s signature genre of “heritage cuisine.” Herbs hang, koji dries and no pot (unless blanching) ever exceeds a rapid simmer. In the words of our inspectors, Bleidorn’s restaurant is an immersive environment: “the front windows are stacked with logs, dried fish hangs from the rafters and the dining room is gently scented with wood smoke.” In Bleidorn’s words, he and his chefs don’t only season the dishes themselves. “We season the space.”
Bleidorn attended Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island, before heading out to the Golden State for his impeccable track through MICHELIN-starred restaurants, shadowing the likes of Dominique Crenn. In his creative process between the coasts, he came to liken two regions: the Pacific Northwest and New England. “They draw many parallels,” he explains. “They have similar climates (although the climate changes more frequently in New England), rocky shores, lots of shellfish, either lobster (in the East) or abalone (in the West) and lots of clams.”
Of all the places he loves on the East Coast, Bleidorn’s favorite is his hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts, a neighborhood on the Boston Harbor about 30 minutes from the city proper. First settled by English colonists in 1633, Hingham is entrenched with American history. “Part of the Declaration of Independence was signed there,” says Bleidorn, who recommends visiting some museums in the area such as at the Old Ordinary Campus (which offers popular candlelight tours during November) and the Hingham Historical Society (founded in 1914).
If you’re visiting the area and need a place to stay, Bleidorn recommends you look no further than Bethlehem Hingham, a former shipyard. “The shipyard was used to launch warships [during World War II] and played a huge part in the Allies’ success on D-Day,” says the chef. “They turned this historic area into a shopping center with lots of restaurants and hotels. There are great views of the water, a lot of history to read about and a Wahlburgers is located there.”
Wahlburgers is a niche fast food chain which locals love and where Bleidorn recommends ordering the “Our Burger” and a frappe with extra malt. “There are not many fancy fast food places in the area,” he says. “Wahlburgers has a lot of locations across the U.S. now, but the original location was in Hingham.”
Bleidorn also loves a local bar called Liberty Grill, which he first visited while building patio furniture as a high schooler and working for a local contractor, who granted him access despite his being underage. “This place has been around forever,” he says. “I like it because it's located in the old city center, it's filled with history and has great cheap pizza. Sit at the bar and grab a beer and a jalapeño pizza. It’s really thin pizza—nothing fancy—but really good.”
Bleidorn got his first “real cooking job” in his early twenties at “one of the nicer Italian restaurants in the town” called Tosca, which he recommends. “We were cooking with wood fire before cooking with fire was trendy and on Instagram,” he recalls. “It was a lot like what I’m doing today. Like, ‘this is a grill, we get wood every day, and we cook.’”
For a day trip out of Hingham, Bleidorn often heads to the town of Hull, located at the tip of the peninsula. “It's a great place to visit for nice beaches and awesome seafood,” he says. If taking a day trip to Boston, the chef tries to stop for a meal at his favorite Spanish restaurant, Toro. “Great place for tapas and paella.”
For pastries in the area, Bleidorn loves Mike’s Pastry, located not far from Hingham in Boston’s historic North End and founded by Michael Mercogliano in 1946. “It's a must-stop for his famous cannoli,” says Bleidorn. “Even today, I always stop by Mike's on my way to the airport.”