Twenty years ago, a new high-profile restaurant called Jardiniere opened on a sunny Friday in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. That year, Bill Clinton began his second presidential term. The world was reeling from Princess Diana’s death in a tragic car accident. J.K. Rowling’s debut novel published in the U.K., and 32-year-old star chef Traci Des Jardins was about to open a restaurant that would make it big.
Des Jardins was recruited to partner in the restaurant by Pat Kuleto, the moneyed winemaker, designer, and entrepreneur who had already made a reputation for himself as a “dream maker” for chefs.
In the restaurant world, it was a time of decadence. San Francisco was flush in the cash of the dot-com era. Dinner portions were Flinstonian. Expense accounts, bottomless. Fitting the mood of the time, Kuleto wanted Jardiniere to be a supper club with live jazz and crowds that were four-deep at the bar.
But with a hotshot chef like Des Jardins involved, the food was bound to take center stage. Des Jardins had already been dubbed Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. She already had a James Beard Award.
She was also a recovering, self-described “tyrant” chef. “I came up in an era where there was no management style,” she explains. “You screamed and yelled. It’s how I was trained, but I didn’t want to be like that anymore. My goal was to create a management style that was disciplined and rigorous without being abusive.”