Quick Takes: Lord Stanley
Slow and steady wins the whole damn thing — meet the Bleases.
July 12, 2016
[QUICK TAKES: Collected observations that probably mean nothing, but might very well mean something. Here, travel back in time for a few moments stolen in the company of the co-chefs of Lord Stanley at the start of its existence.]
The kitchen door at Lord Stanley sticks a little.
The latch is the culprit, which you know because both chefs — that’d be husband-wife team Rupert and Carrie Blease, in matching, immaculate white T-shirts — point it out when you step in off the sidewalk. It clicks back into place with an extra yank.
Lord Stanley is in San Francisco, at the intersection of one busy street, Broadway, and another busy street, Polk. There is also a Lord Stanley in London, which is not a sleek restaurant decked out in white and slate and concrete, but rather a pub off the Piccadilly Line which the couple frequented while working at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire. Rupert’s father was also named Stanley, though he was not a lord in the official sense of the word. So: many threads.
The kitchen windows face Broadway, with halfway-fogged glass that obscures the lower half of the faces strolling by. Sometimes these floating half-faces stop abruptly to stare straight into the kitchen, which is unnerving the first time and entertaining the next, and probably a bit tiresome mid-shift. Rupert gives a jolly, crazed wave when someone locks eyes with him on accident. Sometimes they wave back, startled. “No idea who the fuck that was!” he sing-songs, and turns back to his cutting board.
Rupert is English, Carrie is Californian, but no matter where they were in the world, this has always been the plan. They always pictured their restaurant — which came into the world just as the couple celebrated ten years together — here, in this foggy city of hills, where their joint endeavor is marked instead by color. Colors at Lord Stanley are either translucent or saturated; everything is the greenest green, or yellow, or red. Sorrel is not just pedestrian green, it's electric chartreuse; the lightly smoked salmon it sits on is neon coral instead of pink. Maybe it's the light or the plates or maybe you had more coffee today and are coincidentally experiencing super-vision, but it doesn't look the same as all the other understated restaurants hawking New Californian cuisine. There's an undercurrent of restraint, but it very clearly doesn't represent caution: it's confidence.
The natural progression for anybody who stays in this trade long enough, Rupert says, is a very certain feeling that being in charge of someone else’s food isn’t going to be enough. You will never truly own Per Se’s food, or Blue Hill’s. At a certain point, only yours will suffice. He says this as he stands over a neat tray of mise en place, segmented into little silver compartments. Pickled chanterelle is alongside summer truffle, nestled next to olive crumb, then pine nut relish, then garlic confit.
It’s 4PM — minutes suddenly crunch into each other at increasingly high speeds, the day reveals itself to be something closer to a slingshot than a straight line — and if the quiet morning hours were marked by the methodical turns of bread dough, now there is a cook in every corner. One of them snips fennel fronds and the smell floats around the kitchen. Staff meal is rice and a collision of vegetables eaten in hurried bites, standing.
The locks slide open, and they’re all antsy, eyeing the door. Rupert scrubs a hand over his face. Carrie busies herself rolling truffles; the ticket machine coughs and an order rolls in. All eyes land on the ticket.
Carrie’s voice rings out: onion petals, mussels.
In a year or so, after Lord Stanley has won itself both a Michelin star and respectable nods from critics both local and national, those teensy cipolline onion petals filled with a sherry soubise will have proved an unbeatable fan favorite. For now, they are an elegant experiment.
Lovely, Rupert calls back. The kitchen purrs into action, just as they planned.