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Flavor Profile: Bi-Rite's Sam Mogannam

Sam Mogannam, Photo by Laura Flippen

Photo by Laura Flippen

We asked Sam Mogannam a lot of questions, but only had room for seven in the March issue of 7x7. So, here we give you the whole shebang because, well, his answers were too delicious not to share.

CREDENTIALS:

Owner, Bi-Rite Family of Businesses

NEWS FLASH:

Bi-Rite part deux brings a bevy of goodies to Divisadero Street this month.

Favorite ingredient/product and why? Really good, really fresh olive oil and lemon. It’s my favorite way to dress a salad of bitter greens, to dress vegetables, grains or legumes. Amazing with a bit of chopped garlic and used to marinate chicken or fish. With good salt, I feel these two ingredients are indispensible in the kitchen. My mother put olive oil and lemon juice on everything. Most Americans just use olive oil as a lubricant—something to drizzle on a dry salad—but for us it’s always been a sauce, a condiment full of its own flavor.

Best thing you’ve eaten in SF? Chad’s (from Tartine) bread. It is always so inspiring, especially when warm, right out of the oven. The crust has an amazing texture and the whole grains in the dough exude an intoxicating aroma.

Dream playlist while cooking? “Square One (Live),” by Tom Petty; “St. James,” by Snakefarm; “Big Chief,” by Professor Longhair; “Black Coffee,” by Peggy Lee; and end with “Paris, Texas,” by Ry Cooder.

What do you make for yourself to eat at home? I love eggs, especially really good ones from pastured chickens. I like them fried, poached, scrambled and in an omelet. But my favorite way is to make toad in the hole using Tartine bread. A nice, thick slice of bread with a hole cut out in the center for the egg, fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil, leaving the yolk nice and runny, seasoned with just a bit of salt.

Greatest indulgence? Every Christmas Eve for the past 12 years, my wife, Anne, and I have eaten lobster for dinner, always with a salad of chicories, avocado, and citrus; always with a nice bottle of Burgundy. My favorite meal of the year.

What would you request for your last meal? I’d have a panzanella salad, made with Tartine country loaf, dry farmed early girls from Two Dog Farms in Santa Cruz,  arugula grown by Farmer Martin, parmigiano reggiano, garlic and lots of extra virgin olive oil. I’d want to eat it right out of the large wooden bowl I tossed it in.

Strangest customer request? Reindeer. Some blog mistakenly wrote that we sold it one holiday season a few years back. Every year since, we inevitably get a call requesting it.

Who are your luminaries? Wendell Barry, Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, Chip Conley of Joie de Vivre Hospitality Group, Richard Olney, Mahatma Gandhi.

What’s in your refrigerator? Salted anchovies, eggs, Parmigiano Reggiano, ketchup, Dijon, miso paste, lots of miscellaneous jars of preserves and jams that my mom made, maple syrup, cornichons, wine, beer, milk, OJ, and bubbly water from the Seltzer Sisters.

What Bay Area restaurants are on your list to try (name 3)? I have still not eaten at David Kinch’s restaurant, Manresa. I have heard nothing but amazing things. I am also embarrassed to say that I have not yet been to Plow. I rarely get out for breakfast, but have heard it is perfect and Maxine, the chef owner, is an old friend and a great cook. I also am dying to eat at Central Kitchen. I love Tom’s food and have still not made it there.

What’s your favorite pairing? Oysters and muscadet.

What motivates you? Feeding people and seeing their eyes light up when the flavors explode in their mouth. I love making people happy and cooking is my way of doing that.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten? Jellyfish.

If you weren't a grocer, you'd be….? An industrial designer. I love to build things and use design to solve problems. I view Bi-Rite as a constantly changing design project.

Any dietary restrictions? I’m allergic to walnuts, hazelnuts, and pinenuts.

Customer pet peeves? None, we have the nicest and most conscious customers. We are very lucky.

Describe your work persona in one word. My wife says Driven, I say Passionate, my kids say Funny.

Where do you go for a good drink? I love the drinks at Comstock Saloon, Slanted Door, and Locanda. But my favorite is a shot of fernet with a Trumer back at the 500 Club.

Favorite SF neighborhood (+3 local spots you frequent)? The Sunset (its where I live now and where I grew up, crazy that it has come full circle)—The Academy of Sciences, Nopalito on 9th Ave and Outerlands by the beach.

What’s your go-to takeout? Our daughters love the black bean chicken dish from Xiao Loong on West Portal Avenue. We get it with lots of baby corn and always order extra so we can make fried rice with it the next morning.

How far would you travel for a killer meal? Where to? My next culinary trip is going to be to Japan with my friend Dave. He goes a few times a year and the stories about the places he eats are always amazing.

Proudest professional moment? Every time I see one of our staff members take the leap into a leadership role and succeed. I am always inspired and invigorated by my team.

Favorite don't-tell-anyone junk food? Doritos. They were my favorite as a kid as well. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? I am what I want to be: A feeder.