Matt Accarrino didn’t have grand plans of being a chef, let alone run the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco.
Born in the suburbs of New Jersey, Accarrino dreamed of taking his love of cycling to a professional level. All of this would change when he suffered a severe leg injury at 20 years old.
Turning to cooking, Accarrino started working throughout kitchens across the eastern half of the country, working in venerable restaurants including Emeril’s, Charlie Trotter's, Per Se and Craftsteak before swapping coasts to work in Craft in sunny Los Angeles. Soon after, Accarrino got the chance to head up the kitchen at SPQR, the fine-dining establishment in San Francisco’s Fillmore neighborhood. Translating to,“The People and Senate of Rome,” Accarrino doles out haute cuisine that speaks to both his Italian heritage and classical training.
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2013 proved to be a big year for Accarrino—SPQR earned a Michelin star (and has retained one since) and he got back into bike racing, proving to the world that you can, in fact, have two loves of your life.
Here, the chef and avid cyclist talks about his relationship with the red guide.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
Working at the one-star Antonello Colonna outside of Rome 20 years ago.
What were your thoughts when SPQR received its first star?
It was an incredible feeling. Honestly, I kinda cried. It was a total affirmation of my hard work to refine myself into a chef and it meant that I had arrived into some pretty thin air. It meant that I had been recognized for the quality and consistency of my work as a chef.
How did you celebrate?
Truthfully, I didn’t. I just kept working. I’ve always been tough on myself and it’s taken the benefit of more years to begin to really sit back and appreciate moments of achievement whether in my life or those around me. Confessions of a perfectionist.
How much influence and inspiration does the MICHELIN Guide have on your career?
Michelin has been the one place of consistent criticism. Every year you earn your star. There’s a truth in that effort that reminds me of why I’ve also been drawn to competitive bike racing in my life. You take to the road or the kitchen and you do your best. No one cares what you did the last time, there’s a freedom to that, it feels honest.
Does having a star change the direction of your restaurant?
For me, attaining a star was confirmation that what I was already doing was worthy. My cooking and point of view was unique and consistent, that was what I earned the star for. So I didn’t cook for the star, the star came for my cooking. It’s a huge affirmation for a chef. I’ve always been focused on hospitality and service. Seeing a regular customer come back again and again is as much an affirmation. Michelin has seemed to understand that.
What advice do you have for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars?
Be yourself and follow your intuition. You can’t fake it.