A one-woman preservation society, Cortney Burns knows her pickles, cheeses, spices, and charcuterie. As Projects Manager for San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, Burns puts her preservation skills to work creating the restaurant’s knockout larder—paprika from local peppers, root vegetables fermented in beer mash, house-made sour cream, and a beef-tongue pastrami… and that’s just for starters.
Burns and co-chef Nicolaus Balla, have made Bar Tartine, with its experimental takes on Hungarian, Nordic, and Japanese-inflected food, a place that San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer called “so different and exciting that it becomes my personal benchmark.” Their new cookbook, Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes (published in November 2014) shares some of its secrets.
The urge to expand and preserve runs through the Chicago native’s history: from studying cultural anthropology and the Tibetan language at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to travels in Nepal, India, and Australia. It was in Australia that Burns took on cooking with a vengeance, working her way up the line in restaurants before moving to the Bay Area in 2001.
A passion for the handmade and impeccably sourced led Burns to the craft of charcuterie at San Francisco’s Café Rouge, and to the elevation of ingredients at Quince and Boulette’s Larder. Stints as a personal chef in Sun Valley, Idaho, and at Napa and Sonoma wineries followed, at last leading her back to San Francisco and to Bar Tartine.
Balla and Burns are so meticulous about produce, they’ve even grown their own at Scribe Winery, in Sonoma. And although there’s nothing like a just-picked veg, Tartine’s ever-evolving offerings—including an entire tasting menu centered around the umami-packed Japanese sauce koji—are now happily based on Burns’s keen preservation instincts.