Gizela Ho of Rich Table.

Women of FoodSan Francisco

Meet Gizela Ho, the Chef de Cuisine Quietly Powering Rich Table

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You can often catch one of the Riches — Evan or Sarah — in their almost decade-old restaurant Rich Table during service. But just as essential to running the restaurant is its chef de cuisine, Gizela Ho. Raised in Guam while spending summers in Hong Kong, Ho has been with the restaurant for over half of its lifespan. We sat down with her to learn more about her current role as the restaurant’s CDC.

Photo by Ray Koh

Resy: What does a typical day looks like for you as CDC?

GH: On a good day, I get to work around 11 a.m., but most often vendors will start calling around 5 a.m. to tell me of any problems or unavailabilities that came up during the morning. Three days out of the week are market days, and we currently go to the Ferry Plaza Market and the Marin County Market, occasionally the Berkeley market as well. Most of the day is spent quality checking and problem solving with a little bit of R&D squeezed in whenever I have a chance to spare, but nights are dedicated to running a smooth service, expediting or floating on the line.

Which part of your job do you enjoy the most? 

My favorite part of the job is going to the farmers’ market. I moved to California from Guam when I was 18 years old and haven’t had a lot of exposure to a lot of ingredients. So tasting and learning about things I’ve never cooked with before is very exciting to me. I’ve also made so many great friends with all the different farmers and have even spent some holidays with them.

What part of your job do you enjoy the least?

Dealing with staff turnover. Not only is it really sad to say goodbye to coworkers that have become friends and family, but finding a replacement is also incredibly difficult, especially post-pandemic.

The best part of the job is when diners come up after a meal and tell the kitchen what a great experience they’ve had. — Gizela Ho, Rich Table

How have your work and responsibilities changed moving from sous to CDC?

When I was a sous chef, I had a very clearly defined set of responsibilities and tasks that put clearer parameters on when to turn on/off work mode. A CDC’s responsibilities have no parameters. There is no on or off when you step into this role — everyone looks to you for answers whenever a problem arises. And whether or not you have a solution, you have to give your staff the confidence to keep performing their duties.

What’re some lessons that you have learned while working at RT? Specifically from Evan and Sarah?

Murphy’s Law is true. If anything can go wrong, it will. One of the greatest skills that I’ve acquired while working at RT under Sarah and Evan is the ability to adapt in any situation. In providing the best experience for the guest, we will go above and beyond for every diner that walks through the door and through the years. I’ve watched and learned from Evan and Sarah in how to change dishes or come up with new things on the fly using what’s available, some of which have even ended up on the menu. Evan has always told me that one of my greatest attributes is staying calm under pressure, but that characteristic was definitely developed over the years at RT.

 

Photo courtesy of Rich Table
Photo courtesy of Rich Table

What are some things you try to teach new cooks who enter the kitchen?

One of the things that I always try to teach new cooks entering the kitchen is organization. Whether it’s keeping a clean and organized station at all times, or organizing your day so you’re always rolling from one task into the next, knowing where everything is and what you’re supposed to be doing will always make your job easier.

Describe the process of coming up with a new dish at RT. Where does an idea start? Where do you find inspiration?

Some of my best dishes actually come to me in my dreams, like the crab dish from earlier this season.  Other times, I’ll be eating somewhere super nondescript and casual and having something very familiar and comforting that I then use as a base while I’m at the market and come across something I think would work really well with. Sometimes the combination doesn’t work, but I won’t know until I try it.

Do you see yourself opening up your own spot down the line? If so, what does that dream concept look like? 

My end goal has always been to have my own spot in a competitive city like San Francisco. Although, the concept has changed many times over the years. When I was younger, I wanted something super fine dining, big, and ambitious, but as I get older, I’m leaning towards something on the smaller scale that’s more intimate with less of a basic appetizer/entrée format. Think farm to table izakaya-esque. But who knows, in a few years that might change again.

What is one positive change you’d like to see happen in the restaurant industry?

I think the positive change that I’ve wanted is already happening. Many restaurants are tending towards shorter service hours and working days, including Rich Table. I really hope that we can start to focus on a healthier balance between work and life. The amount of time and dedication required for this particular industry is incredibly demanding, and I think that in order to stay inspired and focused, not only do you need a great support system but also other hobbies and interests to give you a healthy distraction from work so that you can continue to love what you do.

Is there anything else you’d like diners to know?

Any appreciation for our craft is very heartfelt. The best part of the job is when diners come up after a meal and tell the kitchen what a great experience they’ve had. In that moment, we forget about the long hours and crazy intensity and realize why we do what we do. So the next time you have a great meal, don’t be afraid to let the server know or to come right up and let us know what a great meal you’ve had.


Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar

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