Chef Greg Kuzia-Carmel

Chef Greg Kuzia-Carmel

When popular Sunset District restaurant Outerlands closed for remodeling at the end of 2013, apprehension turned to skepticism as news broke that Chef Brett Cooper would not return, and the reopening date got delayed.

But under Dave Muller and Lana Porcello’s ownership, the restaurant remains in as steady hands as ever, boasting a beach chic redesign with enviable woodwork, more seats to ameliorate the biggest customer complaint (long lines), a reinvigorated bar program under the guidance of Foreign Cinema‘s Kevin Dowell, new dining formats and a fresh face in the kitchen: Chef Greg Kuzia-Carmel (Per Se, Mugaritz).

We recently stopped by to speak with the chef about what makes Bay Area dining special, the secrets to a great sourdough, and how a grilled cheese sandwich (specifically, the one Outerlands serves) can change your life.

“Our move out here was to embrace a community,” says Kuzia-Carmel of the decision to come out west from New York. “I’ve never lived anywhere close to where I worked. I’ve always worked in a really interesting, hip, high-profile restaurant in a neighborhood and could never afford to be a part of that society. Outerlands, for us, was very challenging—a lot of the people who are here every night are our neighbors.”

Yet although much of the clientele is local, Outerlands is much more than just a neighborhood restaurant with a local following. The staff has an unwavering commitment to quality ingredients, so you can expect everything to be as fresh and local as possible—a hallmark of California cuisine that really appealed to the chef.

“It kinda gets to a point in every cook’s life—not to say that things get simpler—but you just start realizing the integrity of the product is really the foundation,” Kuzia-Carmel says.

Just recently he showcased seafood that was caught just off the coast that starts a few blocks away from the restaurant at Ocean Beach—a feat not every chef can brag about. And keeping on the subject of ingredients, Kuzia-Carmel remains equally enthusiastic when discussing Outerlands’ rich (and famous!), house-made sourdough.

“Our technique is very challenging in that you make the dough the day before and it doesn’t receive any shocking treatment—it sits out at room temp overnight,” he says. “They start out looking like nothing, and then the next morning they’re ripped and ready to go and take on this incredible shape.”

Kuzia-Carmel was developing a bread program for Brooklyn’s Governor restaurant when he first encountered Chad Robertson of Tartine, who in turn introduced him to Muller.

“Dave [Muller] has kind of has a law of diminishing returns,” he jokes. “It’s just bread to him. I want to use that bread for as many things as I can! It’s really special stuff.”

Indeed, the lunch menu features a delicious selection of sandwiches, and though the new chef’s creations are quite good, the signature dish remains the grilled cheese—the lone holdover from the restaurant’s pre-remodel era. While fans certainly would have been upset if it had been dropped from the menu, as Kuzia-Carmel explains, it also carries sentimental value for him.

“When I worked for Chef [Thomas] Keller back at Per Se, we’d have closure every year in January, and I had the opportunity to come out here to visit friends,” he says. “They took me to Outerlands on the way to SFO and I had my first grilled cheese experience, if you will. It was at this point in time that I was having a really crazy, intense experience over [in New York]…so it was my parting moment with California.”

If there were ever any doubts about the future of the restaurant, this new chef is well on his way to putting them to rest.

Photos from Outerlands, courtesy of the restaurant:

Outerlands is open seven days with a breakfast menu designed by pastry chef Brooke Mosley available 8am-10am. Lunch 10am-3pm. Bar bites 4pm-5:30pm (cocktails available from 3pm). Dinner 5:30pm – 10pm. Brunch on weekends is 9am-3pm.