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Crescent Chef

[whitespace] Chris Fernandez
Christopher Gardner

Crescent Park's mastermind feeds the valley's soul

By Traci Hukill

A couple weeks ago Chris Fernandez, chef of the critically acclaimed Crescent Park Grille in Palo Alto, called his Cuban grandmother for some recipes. Specifically, he wanted to know how to throw a Cuban party and make the roast pig and plantains taste really good, good like dinner at home during a storm, good like only grandmothers can make food taste. She talked, he listened, and Crescent Park Grille's Cuban-themed employee party fired off in rare form last weekend with roasted pork and sweet plantains besides.

Successful, good-looking, understated, 31 and from somewhere else, Fernandez could be one of the hordes of software engineers swarming in and out of Silicon Valley cubicles. But he's a different breed of worker bee, one who deals in organic rather than electronic matters.

Fernandez, probably unwittingly, takes a peculiar position on his role and that of fellow chefs in Silicon Valley. In his view, the valley's voracious appetite for growth and wealth has left its cultural sensibility overlooked and underfed. The idea of being part of the cultural wave that always follows the first swell of money into a city appeals to him. But the main thing he finds missing here is not opulent grand cuisine but soul, characterized in his universe by wholesome, simple food. Hence his grandmother's recipes.

"The buzz all over San Francisco and California is that this is the fastest-growing market on the West Coast, which is bringing about a lot of what I call 'explosive markets.' That doesn't usually appeal to me.

Name: Chris Fernandez
Age: 31
Occupation: Chef, Crescent Park Grille
City of Origin: Portland, Ore.
How Long Here: 1 year, 3 months
Hobbies and Interests: Hiking, mountain biking, wine

"But I wanted to be one of the pioneers to come here, to bring my cuisine. It's all corporate food and McDonald's down here. It needs some soul in its restaurants. There's not a whole lot of that.

"I've been told by some of my regular customers that Palo Alto, Los Gatos and Los Altos are areas with lots of culture and money," he goes on. "With this rapid growth comes a non-appreciation for the simple things, like a good meal. Spending time with friends and family isn't as important is it used to be."

Fernandez may be more a creature of the valley than he realizes. On his days off he escapes into the utter solitude of a good mountain bike or hiking trail and is perfectly happy if he doesn't see a soul. "And I don't cook!" he laughs, confessing that about the only things in his refrigerator right now are beer, champagne and some milk gone bad.

It's a good time to be in Silicon Valley, he says, and he plans to stay, even though he's had to adjust his edgy culinary style to the valley's tastes. "It's just that these are [the valley's] growing pains," he explains. "Soon the expansion will reach its edges, and then we won't be able to expand anymore ... like blowing up a balloon in a box, I guess.

"After that it will be about refinement."

And Fernandez says he'll be right here, waiting for the fun to begin.


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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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