When we say we serve family-style cuisine, we’re not just talking about our portions. It takes a family to cook the way we do. All the complex-yet-effortless everyday stuff that’s part of being a family is what goes into our food.
Born in Da Lat, Vietnam in 1962, Charles Phan and his family—parents and five siblings—left Vietnam after the war ended in 1975 and relocated to Guam. It was from Guam that the Phans moved to San Francisco in 1977. Being of Chinese descent, the Phans settled in Chinatown. Charles went to Mission High followed, by University of California, Berkeley where, with his parent’s prodding, he studied architecture.
Nonetheless, Charles always had a passion for food. Once in the United States, both of Charles’ parents held two jobs, so it became Charles' role to cook for the family - ten in all, including his aunt and uncle. His personal flavor profiles stemmed from his mother's cooking. Speaking fluent French, Mrs. Phan's cooking knew no boundaries. Her French/Vietnamese cooking style consistently elevated simple Vietnamese peasant food to new levels. When time allowed, it wasn’t unusual for her to make a simple spring roll numerous times, changing the sauce ever so slightly, perfecting the recipe for dinner. Charles followed her lead. Along with Vietnamese favorites, Charles was charmed by the American traditions, creating elaborate Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday feasts.
Throughout high school, Charles bussed tables at The Coachman (an English pub owned by the Scott's Seafood proprietors), Mumm’s and Cafe Royale. As he became intrigued with cooking, Charles took notice of some of the more avant-garde Bay Area restaurants of the time. He credits Chez Panisse and Zuni Café for heavily influencing his food philosophy.
After college, Phan took over the family garment business. While designing clothing for his clothing store in Berkeley he stumbled over an opportunity to work in the software business and soon got drawn into the early 1990's Silicon Valley whirlwind. With an opportunity to continue selling software in Hong Kong, Charles opted to stay with his family in the Bay Area and attempted to open a small creperie in a Tenderloin hotel. When the owner found out the crepes were to be Vietnamese the deal was off so Charles and his family set out to open The Slanted Door.
Tapping his design background, Charles’ vision for the original restaurant was to create a stylish ambiance for traditional Vietnamese cooking. He wanted an ingredient-driven menu that changed often and relied heavily on California eating savvy. Phan knew there was nothing in San Francisco that combined all of these elements within the Vietnamese category. He commented at the time that, “Many of my staff thought I was crazy. I refused to cut any corners, use any bottled sauces or the typical Vietnamese crutch, MSG.”
Phan proved through the phenomenal success with the original Slanted Door Restaurant that combining the Bay Area’s sensibility for fresh ingredients with Vietnamese time-honored cooking techniques is a perfect marriage. More than fifteen years later, he continues to prove that showcasing farm-fresh, locally sourced products and preparing everything from scratch has put The Slanted Door on the cutting edge of Vietnamese cuisine.
Justine Kelly has been Chef de Cuisine at The Slanted Door since 2007. Born in San Francisco, her family moved to Marin County, north of San Francisco. Ms. Kelly started her cooking career as a pastry cook at one of San Francisco’s first organic restaurants, the Ironwood Café, in 1989. She spent the next seven years working her way up through the ranks at restaurants such as Little City Café, Bistro Roti (under Chef Cindy Pawlcyn), Greens, and the Flying Saucer (under Chef Albert Tordjman). In 1996, Justine was running The Red Cat, a small café in the Mission district, when she met Charles Phan, who often dined there. Charles was such a fan of her pastries, he asked Justine to be the pastry chef at his new restaurant — The Slanted Door.
She has been with us ever since. Justine lives in Oakland with her husband and daughter.
After cooking school and immersing himself in the fundamentals of classic European cooking, Chucky Dugo discovered his love of pastry while completing a baking internship. This led to an apprenticeship with an Alsatian chocolatier Alfred Schilling, followed by the fortuitous opportunity to work under renowned pastry chef Jemal Edwards. Under Edwards, Chucky was able to explore the intersection of creativity and technique while learning to master precise technical desserts.
A variety of restaurant and consulting positions led to a three-year sojourn in Asia and his first position as executive pastry chef at Lulu Taipei. Upon return to the United States he joined the Slanted Door family as Executive Pastry Chef.
Erik Adkins has been bartending in San Francisco since 1993. He is responsible for the bar program at the Slanted Door and for designing, opening, and managing the bar at Heaven’s Dog. He has also designed the bar program at Flora in Oakland.
With cocktails appearing in several national magazines and newspapers, Erik’s bar menus reflect an eye for detail and execution that defines craft cocktails and respect for ingredients and responsible agriculture that is the San Francisco Bay Area.
Erik likes to show case spirits and cocktails that demonstrate a link to agriculture and to a specific place and time in history. He is grateful to be bartending at a time when there are so many passionate and talented people involved in the resurgence of the American cocktail.
Prior to becoming the Wine Director for the Slanted Door and our group of sister restaurants, Chaylee Priete served a lot of wine.
She came into the wine world unintentionally while putting herself through college. Originally from Cape Cod, she has worked in restaurants all her life. It was by chance that while in school she ended up at what was then the only wine bar in Atlanta, Georgia. One muggy southern night late into wine tasting, her boss and friend told her she had a good nose and promptly took her under his tutelage. Since then, she has done everything from running retail wine shops, to startup wine bars, both cooking and running the wine program. From 2001 to 2007, she was the Wine Director at Greens Restaurant, where her wine list garnered a number of awards.
Apart from her enjoyment of working on the floor and talking to customers about wines she loves, Chaylee likes to spend time in the vineyards of the world, seeing winemakers in their natural habitat, pilfering rocks, and learning about the unique terroirs of the world.
The Slanted Door / 1 Ferry Building #3 / San Francisco, CA 94111 / (415) 861-8032
All photography by Aya Brackett