Chef + Co-Owner
When asked why a Swedish-born chef would choose to open an authentic Italian restaurant, Staffan Terje, chef and owner of Perbacco in San Francisco, replies, “Italian food is the food that talks to me. You don’t choose who you fall in love with. It just happens.” Staffan grew up on his grandfather’s farm outside of Stockholm, Sweden, where he discovered his passion for food and eating at an early age. Surrounded by farm fresh produce and a family that loved to cook and eat, entering into the restaurant industry was an easy decision later in life.
During high school, Staffan chose to do his mandatory apprenticeship at the local slaughter house. “At that stage I was a punk rocker and naturally wanted to shock my class mates, who mostly apprenticed as teachers’ assistants. It worked, they thought I was crazy.” However, he soon discovered that he had a knack for butchering and he learned quickly how to handle a knife properly from the butchers.
Following high school, Staffan enrolled at the Hotel and Restaurant School in Stockholm, completing his apprenticeship at the Michelin starred restaurant, Gourmet. In 1982, after working in Stockholm for a few years, Staffan was offered a job in Sarasota, Florida. “My friend and I planned to work there for a year and come home with bragging rights that we had worked in “The US”,” Staffan says. “We’re both still here.”
After a couple of years, Staffan headed west and worked in several restaurants in Orange County, CA, before ending up in Napa Valley in 1986. There he worked at Sherry Oven, a restaurant housed in a historic winery in downtown Napa. As the San Francisco Bay Area and Wine Country were the hotbeds for California Cuisine, Staffan was able to take his classic French training and apply it to the bounty of the west coast.
“At the restaurant we used produce from small farms and sometimes even peoples’ back yards,” he remembers. Inspired by the vast array of local products, (“The first Meyer lemons I ever used came from a neighbor’s tree!” he says), he began to form the practice of sourcing ingredients from small farms and continues to do so today. In 1988, the lure of Italian cuisine called and Staffan joined Piatti Ristorante in Yountville, Napa Valley. “We were doing some of the most authentic Italian food in the area,” says Staffan. Promoted quickly, he was soon responsible for new restaurant openings, menu development and training. Other career highlights include a seven-year stint at San Francisco’s famed Scala’s Bistro and cooking at The James Beard house in New York City.
“These days, chefs are taking back the skills required to master the craft of cooking,” Staffan explains. “For example, Perbacco has a curing room that we use to make our own salumi.” The inspiration and passion for the food at Perbacco is driven by the rich history of northwestern Italy. Formerly known as the Kingdom of Savoy, the region today encompasses Piemonte and Val d’Aosta. Traditional dishes and recipes from the region are updated with seasonal ingredients found in northern California, supporting the integrity of the dish and preserving the authenticity of “la cucina Piemontese.” Staffan continues his philosophy of buying produce from small, local farmers and artisan producers, picking up produce from the farmers market at the Ferry Plaza, only couple of blocks from the restaurant, in order to support the local growers. “It’s not only the best produce. It’s the right thing to do,” Staffan maintains.
Searching constantly for inspiration, Staffan travels to Italy on a yearly basis for full immersion eating and research. “Every time I visit, I come home exhausted, recharged and inspired. Eating in Italy is hard work and Italians are probably the most discriminating eaters on the planet. Italian food is about the quality of the ingredients and with what care they are prepared. You cannot hide as it is pure and direct to the point. Food cannot be more honest than that – which is why I love to cook Italian food.” In January 2010 Staffan, along with his business partner, Umberto Gibin, opened barbacco eno trattoria, next door to Perbacco. At barbacco, he maintains the same quality-driven tenants to form the seasonally changing menu.