French-American restauranteur Nick Ronan is known as “the Kissing Chef” in San Francisco, where he greets customers with a peck on the cheek as they step into his aptly-named bistro, Bisou. The eatery will be taking part in San Francisco Restaurant Week from January 22 to 31, 2018.
Nick Ronan found himself in the restaurant world in the same way some people find God. He had his first epiphany when he was hired as a dishwasher in a seafood restaurant in London. One night during his shift he discovered lobster and Chablis wine, and he never looked back.
The chef was born in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, to a French mother and an American father, and has continued to share his passion and taste for great food ever since. One day, Nick Ronan was invited to cook live for local television channel ABC 7, and stepped off the set to hug members of the audience and kiss them on the cheek. The French bisou became his trademark, and he quickly adopted his new nickname, “the Kissing Chef.” He then went onto open his bistro, Bisou, in 2010 in the center of the Castro, San Francisco’s famous gay neighborhood.
In an effort to “rewrite the codes” of French gastronomy, that he sees as “expensive and arrogant,” the chef encourages his employees to have conversations and get to know their customers. And everyone is greeted with a kiss on the cheek. The concept has also been rolled out as a Catalan restaurant, Beso, and as a wine bar, set to open in a few months. “I like people. I don’t want to hide away in my kitchen,” says the French-American, who has lived in California for 13 years. “Every week I help between 500 and 600 people to get away from their day-to-day lives for two hours. It’s a responsibility, and a privilege.”
France-Amérique: You serve “French cuisine with a Californian accent.” What are your culinary influences?
Nick Ronan: I grew up in Fontenay-aux-Roses, in the suburbs south-west of Paris, but I spent every summer as a kid at my family’s vacation house in a little village next to Carcassonne. The gastronomy in the Languedoc region, which is located between the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, and Spain, had a profound influence on my cuisine. I also drew a lot of inspiration from North Californian culture. What you eat defines who you are, particularly in San Francisco. People are interested in flavor, they pay attention to the products used, and they’re constantly looking for the next new thing. That atmosphere made me want to create, and surpass myself.
Your menu features several dishes that include foie gras. Are you worried by the anti-foie gras movement currently sweeping across California?
Not in the slightest. If California reinstates the foie gras ban, I’ll just play with the law. I’ll try to read between the lines so I can keep serving my dishes legally.
San Francisco Restaurant Week runs until January 31, 2018. What dishes would you recommend to people looking to discover your restaurant?
I can’t judge my recipes and tell people they should order the scallops gratinée instead of the pork ribs à la bourguignonne, or the winter truffle pappardelle. Try whatever you like. It’s your dinner, after all!
2367 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114