Almost 3 years after opening its doors, prime time reservations at Spruce are still hard to come by. The posh neighborhood restaurant’s appeal extends well beyond its surroundings attracting foodies from all over the Bay Area. And twelve times a year, Spruce opens its back doors welcoming a select few into its kitchen for private cooking demos. Each class lasts about 4 hours and includes a lunch with the chef. Today: Spring lamb ($100).
Chef Mark Sullivan speaks about the young milk-fed lamb with the enthusiasm of a child and the experience of someone who has spent a lifetime in the trade; his hands gliding effortlessly as he butchers first the shanks, then legs, saddle, and belly. Students and cooks watch in awe. And in a matter of minutes, what was once the somewhat eerie sight of a whole animal lying dead on the table (not for the faint of heart); becomes an exciting array of cuts any home cook enthusiast would kill for. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Much like in a live cooking show (think Julia Child, not Iron Chef), some steps are skipped for the benefit of time. A marinate of savory, garlic and olive oil is crushed in a mortar and pestle then brushed on the lamb leg that will rest for thirty-six hours before cook time. But here, out of the fridge, or a time machine if you will, comes an identical twin that has been marinating for two days. Ready to roast.
The class watches attentively gathered around the expediting table turned demo station. Sixteen people wearing pristine Spruce aprons over their Laurel Heights winter wear of v-neck cashmere sweaters and button-down shirts (no fleece vests here). But this is not a hands-on class, not for the audience anyway; the aprons are more for shows. While the lamb cooks in the oven, students are escorted to Spruce’s private dining room where the fruits of their academic endeavor will be savored along with great wine and the esteemed company of the chef.
For a self-taught chef, Sullivan is a keen teacher. While his time at school was spent studying art and philosophy, he has fond memories of growing up in a food-lover household with the kitchen as his favorite playground. The prodigy cook recalls making omelets as early as age five.
Spruce today is part of a larger organization that also owns Pizza Antica and The Village Pub. The restaurant benefits from the group’s scale with their own bakery, coffee roaster and farm to get the best possible ingredients. But at heart, Spruce is still very much a neighborhood restaurant. The type that welcomes its neighbors in the kitchen, with a glass of champagne no less.