My friend Leif Hedendal, a masterful underground chef with sharp blue eyes, a soft voice, and wit so dry it’s almost hard to detect, recently asked me to help him with an event. After working at restaurants such as Greens and Citron, Leif (pronounced “life”) decided it was time to leave the establishment and set off on his own culinary path. By cooking at underground dinners and supper clubs, catering events, and experimenting with the chemistry of flavors in his own kitchen, Leif has made a name for himself in the East Bay and San Francisco.
Some of his flavor pairings sound exotic and daring, and sometimes his deftness with the most simplest of dishes, such as Grilled Tahini Califlower, reveal his true prowess in the kitchen. The event he catered recently- the one where I served appetizers, opened wine bottles, and had a genuinely good time with both servers and party-goers alike- was for a company’s celebration of an installation exhibit in Hayes Valley.
The menu included Deconstructed Gazpacho (hallowed out Dirty Girl Tomatos with a spoonful of fresh garlicky gazpacho in each one), a Chantrelle Mushroom Galette, and crostini withfigs with fresh chevre. The most unique, and arguably the most successful, dish of the night arrived in the form of a provocative and somewhat controversial dessert. After arranging sliced tomatoes, tiny sweet strawberries, pluots, fresh mint, and fresh basil in a bowl, Leif spooned salt and pepper ice-cream from Humphrey Slocombe onto each plate followed by a thin drizzle of olive oil. The combination seemed to encompass all of summer, and the salt and pepper ice cream is truly, and maybe surprisingly, spectacular. An original pairing and one I will miss as strawberries stop appearing and tomatoes all but disappear until next summer.