Three restaurants in San Francisco are on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and the six in California that have been awarded three Michelin stars are clustered around the Bay. CEO Joe D’Alessandro explains why his city’s food scene is king
“Food is so important in San Francisco because of the city’s cultural diversity. Forty per cent of the population is Asian, primarily Chinese, and we have a large European community. They’ve all brought their culinary techniques and ideas with them, and everything can be grown, produced, caught, raised or fermented within an hour’s drive of the Bay Area. You have the seafood from the coast, wine from the vineyards – you name it. People eat out more in San Francisco than anywhere else in the US.
“The people of San Francisco have very high food standards, even for a burrito. The Mission is our Latino neighbourhood and the burritos there are very famous, but it’s the quality of the ingredients in those burritos that make them different: you’re eating mostly organic chicken or beef, raised in a farm close by the city. Whether you’re in a luxurious upscale restaurant or at a street vendor, it’s going to be a similar high-level food quality. That’s part of the ethos of San Francisco.
“About 50 per cent of all California’s Michelin stars are in the Bay Area, although we only have about 20 per cent of its population.
“One is called Benu. The chef is Korean, and he’s created this incredible nouvelle Korean cuisine with a Californian twist. It’s unique, you won’t find it anywhere else in Korea or in California. Then there’s Atelier Crenn, the first three-Michelin-star restaurant in the US owned by a woman. SingleThread in Healdsburg has only been open for three years and has already achieved three Michelin stars.
“If you want to go to any of the famous restaurants, you will have to make a booking in advance. It’s like planning a trip to Alcatraz – it sells out every day.
“The Californian health-conscious lifestyle is dominant in the food scene. I can’t think of any restaurant in San Francisco that doesn’t have a significant, well-produced and thoughtful vegetarian option. And that goes for the Asian restaurants, too, whether Vietnamese, Thai or Chinese.
“To get into the US you need to show proof of vaccination, and in San Francisco you’ll likely have to show it to get into a restaurant – so just bring it with you when you go out, as well as your mask.”
When a major hurricane hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the island learned to protect its own resources – including when it comes to tourism and its culinary offering, says CEO Brad Dean
“At the time that Hurricane Maria hit, 80 per cent of our food was imported. When we couldn’t get any food to the island, we realised the importance of our agriculture. Now, more than ever, you’ll see that farm-to-table connection. It’s not just a dining option – it’s a recognition of how important the synergy is between the agriculture and the restaurant sector throughout the island.
“Puerto Rico has three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays, which are extraordinary bodies of water. If you touch them with the paddle of your kayak they light up in this extraordinary way. For a few years they’d shine, but not as brightly as people remembered. After the hurricane, we couldn’t use them for a year and Mother Nature used that time to cleanse the water. The mangroves got fuller. Now, the water shines brighter than ever, and it’s led to a more active effort to protect it.
“As we come out of Covid we are appreciating the importance of sustainability and seeing the opportunity of regenerative travel. Our visitor experiences are really rooted in the natural aspects of the island – the cave systems, the rainforests. They have become more celebrated, and we’ve realised how important it is to protect them.
“We’re noticing a genuine, active interest in regenerative travel, and we’re hearing from travellers that they want to give back and help the island.”