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Jarad Gallagher doesn’t let past define him

Michelin-starred chef Jarad Gallagher opened the Smoke Point BBQ and Provisions in San Juan Bautista in November. Photo by Robert Eliason.

As a Michelin-starred chef, Jarad Gallagher has received his fair share of media coverage, for good reason. Before opening the Smoke Point BBQ and Provisions in San Juan Bautista in November, Gallagher had an eight-year run as the executive chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the Bay Area. 

Before that, the San Juan Bautista resident worked at Michelin-starred restaurants like Michael Mina, One Market and Plumed Horse. On his way to becoming a Michelin-starred chef, Gallagher only wanted to be known for one thing—his quality of work. 

“I’ve never wanted my success to be defined by a story; I just wanted my success to be defined by the product and quality of work I do,” he said. 

Having accomplished that, Gallagher added, “It’s a weird feeling when someone is interested in you because of something that happened to you—not because of something you are.” Unbeknownst to most people outside of his close inner circle of family and friends, Gallagher then revealed that his father, Guy, was murdered on July 13, 1989, when Jarad was 9 years old. 

Perhaps because Gallagher has achieved his goal of becoming known for his work in the kitchen, he was willing to open up a bit more on his life story, which movie producers have taken a keen interest in, Gallagher said. Gallagher’s dad was a chef at Chicago’s Restaurant in Seattle when he was shot to death. His wife, Kelly, and Jarad were at the scene when it happened. 

“It was a pretty traumatic scenario,” Jarad said before quickly pivoting, “but in a more providential way, it kind of forged a very close union between the restaurant (industry) and me. I think some people would’ve ran away; now I spend most of my time enjoying doing the work he (Guy) would be doing. And that makes me feel I have a little bit of a relationship with him.”

Although losing his dad was brutally gut-wrenching, Gallagher said the fallout was in some ways equally as devastating and traumatic. His friends suddenly didn’t want to hang out anymore. Relatives pulled away, as if being a victim was somehow a contagious virus. 

Back then, there was no effective support system for someone like Gallagher, who in the ensuing years got shipped off to several homes because no one wanted to take him in. By 13, Gallagher was carrying guns and selling cocaine, he said.

“The most difficult thing outside of obviously missing my dad and the impact it had on my mom was adjusting and understanding how different society as a whole treated me,” he said. “I was sent to California, then Boston, it was a mess. It was really interesting how victims can easily be outcast by society and sometimes society doesn’t realize it. That was the hardest part; the world alienated me.”

Despite the life-altering event and the ensuing adversity that followed, Gallagher said he still has “pleasant childhood memories around cooking,” which drove him down the culinary path. He became a sous chef at 19 and an executive chef at 21, training at Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary school in Paris teaching French cuisine. After working for Michel Bras’ famed restaurant, Le Suqet—which has been classed several times as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world—Gallagher returned stateside to work at some of the most renowned restaurants in the Bay Area.

After an eight-year run at Chez TJ, Gallagher pivoted and decided that he wanted to try something different. For 15 years, Gallagher chased Michelin stars and cooked for wealthy people who didn’t think twice about forking over a grand for a single meal. Along the way, Gallagher gained accolades, knowledge and credibility. 

“(That was all well and good) but maybe I wanted to do something more true to myself, a little simpler and a little more reflective on how I feel about the world rather than chasing accolades,” he said. “I’m 42, I have a 3-year-old daughter, I got the stars. So now I can kind of do what I want and not worry about all that stuff. This makes me feel very grounded, connected to my family and makes it all worth it at a high level.”

On the surface, opening a restaurant during a pandemic seems counterintuitive. But one of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history has done little to deter Gallagher from opening Smoke Point BBQ and—get this—possibly four more restaurants/cafes in Silicon Valley by 2022. 

Gallagher describes his style as rustic, and he’s always cooked with live wood charcoal fire. Don’t expect Smoke Point—which is occupying the space that formerly housed Basque Matxain Etxea on 206 Fourth Street—to be your average, run-of-the-mill barbecue joint. Utilizing a combination of a standard grill/smoker and an indirect smoker—which means there are no coals above or below the meat—along with ingredients sourced locally and pork from Nyland Ranch, Gallagher said Smoke Point stands out for a variety of reasons. 

“It’s a taste in barbecue,” he said. “We are slightly more expensive and we don’t mind being that because of our attention to quality above quantity.”

The prime skirt steak ($18) is cold smoked over red wine barrels and finished on a flame-broiler, and the St. Louis pork ribs ($30 for a full rack) are smoked over oak wood for five hours. Gallagher said the quality of his food is the No. 1 reason why Smoke Point has received tremendous response from the community. 

Gallagher also has eight sandwiches on his menu to tap into the lunchtime crowd, and he sells sides in pints because people often order for their entire family and not just themselves. Some of the side items include sauerkraut potato salad, apple and ginger coleslaw and smoked Brussel sprouts, which is the restaurant’s top selling side dish. Gallagher said the variety of foods on the menu means people can eat at Smoke Point multiple times a week and have a different experience each time. 

“The other thing we do is be consistent in our operations,” he said. “We’re open 12pm to 7pm, seven days a week. Restaurants here have been historically sporadic with their hours of operations, so we’re winning some people over with our stability and people knowing we’ll be open at these hours all the time.”

Gallagher honed his culinary chops working for some of the best chefs in the world, eventually finding his own unique style. He drew a parallel between chefs and musicians in how they get to the top of their respective professions.

“If you want to be a great musician, you’re going to spend years playing other people’s music and learning it and being proficient at it,” he said. “But at some point, you have to throw the rulebook out the window and just play the music. After that, on some level you have to have artistic expression. I don’t think you can become a great chef unless somewhere inside you have the fundamental desire to create art.” 

Gallagher said a great chef also has to find pleasure in serving others. 

“I would wager to say it would be very difficult to be successful in this profession if you’re not a servant to people and you don’t understand that people choose to spend the best and some of their worst moments of their lives eating and enjoying food and being with loved ones at your restaurant,” he said “Great chefs can understand those things.”

Although restaurants have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic—one out of every six food establishments in the country have closed permanently since April 2020—Gallagher actually saw an opportunity amid the catastrophe. 

“I knew barbecue would be the right concept, and I knew I had enough restaurant experience to mitigate the challenges we would face,” he said. 

Despite the hardships brought on by Covid-19, one aspect of the restaurant business has been flourishing. 

“If you would’ve told me before March 2020 that people would be OK to strictly do $100 to-go order boxes, that would be the last thing I would think of, but here we are,” he said. “The response from the community is the best I have ever seen, and I’ve worked all over the world. We’re very blessed to be in San Juan for sure.”

Gallagher said he’s been able to “successfully employ 11 people” and in terms of business, the “bank account is not going up or down, so that’s a pretty big win for the food and beverage world right now.” Before his eight-year run at Chez TJ, Gallagher spent three years working under executive chef Peter Armellino at the Michelin-starred Plumed Horse in Saratoga. During their time together, Armellino grew fond of Gallagher as a person and as a culinary maestro. 

“As I was getting married and he was looking for something else to do, I called the owner of Chez TJ and said, ‘I have your next chef,’” Armellino said. “And Jarad got the Michelin star within his first year of being there. He’s very hyper focused, has a great understanding of flavors and the building blocks, a finesse approach to food, and is a very talented guy. When I hired him, Jarad provided me with everything I needed for the restaurant (to flourish). He wanted to be a part of it all, the creation, everything. You meet Jarad, and he sticks in your mind. He’s just a very charming guy, full of charisma, high energy, very passionate, and fun to be around.”

Business partners with Mary Risavi, who is the owner of Wise Goat Organics and the mother of their 3-year-old daughter Elsie, Jarad said he’s found peace in San Juan. 

“I feel it’s important to do business in the city and county I live in and play an active role in my local community,” he said. 

San Juan Bautista resident Jarad Gallagher enjoys smoking a brisket as his daughter Elsie watches on. Photo by Robert Eliason.