Bill Niles / Kronnerburger
If you consider yourself a San Francisco ‘foodie’ (and there are many of you), you’ve probably eaten a meal cooked by chef Bill Niles. For someone who cut their teeth in the San Fran culinary elite at Bar Tartine and St. Vincent, respectively, you may be bewildered by his bold move to Oakland’s Kronnerburger. But this is not just flipping burgers. With a hand in defining the ever-evolving ‘fast casual’ approach to food, last year Niles reunited with former boss, chef Chris Kronner to help him open the Kronnerburger kitchen. They are making their mark in this quickly gentrifying Oakland neighborhood (whether the neighbors are pleased or not is up for debate). The result is an impressive execution and equally remarkable menu. The burger is grass-fed, dry aged and served rare; your fries will arrive covered with cheese curds and beef cheek gravy! It didn’t take long to put Kronnerburger on the proverbial and literal map. Mirroring his method of cooking, Bill’s culinary career is deliberate, yet unpredictable. We can’t wait to see what he cooks up next.
How did you discover your calling to become a chef? Was there a particular event or experience? Or was it a revelation that occurred over time?
It really was what I always wanted to do. I started getting into cooking as a hobby when I was around 10-12 years old, buying cookbooks and making dinner for my family. Not long afterwards I was trying new recipes for my family dinner every night. I took my first kitchen job when I was 14 and my first chef job when I was 19.
To what do you most attribute to the development of your craft? Personal practice? A past or present mentor?
My first chef mentor, John Klug, at this small South Jersey Italian restaurant taught me all of my best qualities in the kitchen. He worked me to the bone at an age when all my friends were out having fun but I came out of that knowing that to be successful in this industry you need to work hard, clean, and fast.
Have you taken any risks to get to the level where you are today?
I suppose deciding overnight that I was moving out to California from Philadelphia would be risky. But the idea that I wouldn’t be a chef at some point in my life would have been crazy, so any decision that brought me closer to that never really felt like a risk. Just the next step I needed to take.
When thinking about the future of your craft, what are you most excited about?
It’s nice to know that in the nearly 20 years I’ve been doing this, there’s always someone doing something I’ve never seen. The ubiquity of great product is encouraging too. You really can run a kitchen and produce affordable food for people without cutting corners on product or effort.
For someone who spends most of their time preparing food for other people, what do you cook for yourself at home?
I stick to the basics. I generally don’t do menu development at home. So most of the time I am making things my wife wants to eat and dishes from my childhood that my mother or grandmother would make, lots of chicken parmesan.
For those of us who are kitchen-challeged, what are a few secret weapons we should keep in our cabinets to help us impress our dinner guests?
I think the best things you can keep around are flakey sea salt and a high quality olive oil. Don’t skimp and do your research. I utilize both to elevate the simplest of dishes.
We’re notoriously boastful of our Mexican food here in Los Angeles. Is there a Mexican spot in San Francisco that you think could compete?
I’m partial to La Taqueria.
In your opinion, whats the most difficult cooking technique to master?
There’s a long list of things that are difficult to make right, souffles, omelets, basically anything with a laminated dough etc.. I think whats more important is learning to work clean and organized, every time you cook. You’ll really only learn the importance of it when you get into a professional kitchen, but it has just as much value to the home cook. You can’t make clean food in a messy kitchen.