In an industry where chefs seemingly change jobs as often as they change dirty aprons, smart restaurant owners often give top chefs a piece of the action to secure their loyalty. It's not often, though, when you see an owner make partners of both the executive chef and the chef de cuisine. That was the case at San Francisco's wildly popular A16. It proved to be a brilliant move, because last April executive chef Christophe Hille—a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle Rising Star—sold his partnership to move back east, citing personal reasons. But A16 never skipped a beat because chef de cuisine and partner Nate Appleman was waiting in the wings.
Appleman, 27, had been by Hille's side since the restaurant opened three years ago, but when he emerged from the shadows, it was clear his star would also rise. He had done all the hard groundwork long before he arrived at A16.
He enrolled at the CIA at the tender age of 17, and then moved on to Cincinnati's Maisonette for an internship, where he worked the fish station. From there he moved to Seattle to work at the French-Portuguese restaurant Brasa, which features a menu largely cooked in wood-burning ovens.
After a stint there, he moved to Florence, Italy, to pursue his interest in the arts of butchery and salumi production. When Appleman returned from Italy, he moved to San Francisco where he oversaw the meat station at Campton Place. There he met Christophe Hille. Later, he took a position as executive sous chef at Tra Vigne in the Napa Valley city of St. Helena.
In December, 2003, Hille asked Appleman to join him at A16, where he got noticed for his soppressata, copa and wild boar salumi. And, like Hille, he became one of the few certified pizzaiolos in the U.S., meaning he prepares pizza according to the standards set by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Assn. in Italy.
A few weeks ago, Appleman was one of five chefs in the U.S. nominated for a James Beard Rising Star Award. "Nate Appleman effortlessly moved into the role of executive chef and his menu (featuring the cuisine of Campania), is more authentic and rustic than ever," wrote Gayote. Clearly, A16 is in good hands.