Who: Chef Eskender Aseged, the man behind Radio Africa & Kitchen, one of San Francisco first pop-ups, and as of last week, Bayview's newest brick and mortar restaurant.
Years in San Francisco: 25
Current Gig: Radio Africa & Kitchen, named for the ritual of sitting around the radio over snacks and conversation in his Ethiopian hometown, gained wild popularity for its fresh, local ingredients, fun-loving atmosphere and North African cuisine. A typical meal might include cauliflower soup with smoked paprika, wild barramundi with pistachio salsa and roasted pears with SF rooftop honey, hibiscus and vanilla ice cream.
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Eskender, you're from Ethiopia, but Radio Africa & Kitchen's cuisine is North African. Why is that? I am so inspired by North African cuisines -- Egyptian, Tunisian and especially Moroccan. The first time I visited Morocco, I thought it was just amazing. Morocco is so full of energy and activity, even in the kitchen. There is always music playing, and the food there centers around what people should be eating: fresh vegetables, grains, spices, fish, etc.
Why the shift from a pop-up to a permanent restaurant? I've always wanted to open a restaurant, and this allows us to do so much more. We were outgrowing our business. You know, the concept of a pop-up is a beautiful thing. There are so many over-talented and underpaid chefs working in kitchens where they can't showcase their talent, but it can cost about $1 million to open a restaurant. The pop-up is a stepping stone for both the chef and the customer, and it allows you to work out all of the kinks before actually opening a restaurant.
You were one of the first pop-ups in San Francisco, and dozens have followed. Who do you think really shines? graffEats is one I really admire, and one I try not to miss. The chef [Blair Warsham] and I worked together at Campton Place seven or eight years ago and his food is fantastic. But he also realizes the importance of delivering something that a restaurant cannot. Why would you go out of your way to eat pasta? Your really have to be creative with a pop-up.
What are some of your favorite local restaurants? Nopa is one of my very favorites. And flour + water, which I especially love since I live two blocks away. But they are doing something amazing with pasta over there – it's worth a special trip. There is a taqueria at 24th and Valencia [Papalote Mexican Grill] that makes amazing fish tacos. A Papalote fish taco is one of my favorite things.
You just opened the new restaurant in Bayview. What made you decide on Bayview instead of a more popular restaurant neighborhood like the Mission? I wanted a neighborhood that was quieter and more up-and-coming than the Mission. I love the Mission but it's too much –- too busy, too saturated. We can do something bigger in Bayview. Plus, I wanted some place that would have more of a local neighborhood feel. I had originally considered West Oakland, but the City of San Francisco approached me and offered to invest in the restaurant if I would open in Bayview.
How did you end up in San Francisco? I was born in Ethiopia, but my family was forced out by the communist regime. We first went to Sudan, and then New York as refugees. But then I visited San Francisco and moved immediately.
Why? I fell in love with San Francisco instantly. It's like it's own continent! You have the surroundings: the ocean, the wine country, the mountains; plus there is so much energy and an incredible food culture. It's the best place to get produce and ingredients. I haven't traveled the whole world, but as far as I've seen, San Francisco is the best place on it.
Check out Eskender Aseged talking about his beloved Papalote fish tacos in the Mission Local video below: