When seasoned chef Ralph Burgin joined San Francisco’s historic Cliff House in 1998 to oversee the restaurant’s growth and restoration project, he did it by taking on front-of-the-house roles like culinary director, general manager, and VP of Operations. Now, almost 20 years later, Chef Burgin is back in the kitchen as chef de cuisine, marking an exciting time for Sutro’s restaurant and the Cliff House legacy.
And, in addition to his chef and management responsibilities at the Cliff House, Burgin has expanded his creative abilities to include the development of Cliff House Classic. This company is the product line for his own creations of a Bloody Mary Mix and Popover Baking Mix.
The popovers, served daily in the Cliff House Bistro, have been greeting guests for years; five years ago Burgin decided to fine tune the recipe and package the morning treats. They retail for $6.50 and are available in the Cliff House Gift Shop, along with distribution in 25 stores around the Bay Area.
And the Bloody Mary mix was developed in 2014 and is available in 25 stores as well throughout the Bay Area. Burgin’s goals with the product are to offer guests an extended taste of what they may find at the landmark restaurant in San Francisco.
The Cliff House, one of San Francisco’s most beloved dining destinations, continues to serve locals and out-of-town visitors with classically executed contemporary cuisine in a spectacular oceanfront setting.
“Environmentally, we do our part by sourcing sustainable fish, and preparations don’t detract from the delicacies of the fish. Our soups and salads are hyper-seasonal and change often, depending on the time of year and what our farmers are growing,” Chef Burgin says.
As a part-time farmer himself, Chef Burgin understands the importance of the seasonality of dishes and relies on his abundant crop of heirloom tomatoes that serves the Cliff House’s tomato needs from July through fall’s first frost. Come summer, Chef Burgin’s 1,500 tomato plants proliferate in the hot Sonoma County sun and are added to the bar and dining room menu until fall’s first frost. “Just about all of the tomatoes go to the restaurant, from the heirloom tomato martini to the seasonal tomato soup.
Born in Germany’s restaurant-rich Rhine Valley, Chef Burgin has worked as a chef in celebrated restaurants throughout Europe and the United States for more than 20 years. During this period, he won several culinary awards and carries the esteemed title of certified master chef. His stellar culinary background is highlighted by a two-year stint as Executive Chef at Mosimann’s, London’s most prestigious private club. He left that job in 1990 to become the Executive Chef at the Carnelian Room and Bankers Club in San Francisco, which earned the DiRoNa (Distinguished Restaurant of North America) Award under Chef Burgin’s direction.
Within his tenure, he has overseen the operations through the renovations of the Cliff House, which include the new Sutro wing with Sutro's restaurant and the renovated 1909 building, which include the Bistro, Take Out and Banquet facilities. He is directly responsible for all staffing operations and helped be the anchor for much of the employment decisions, which includes a number of employees with more than 20 years of service and several generations of families who have worked at the restaurant.
His wife, Vickie, is the daughter of Dan and Mary Hountalas, the restaurant’s owners, and he says that, “My commitment to the success of the Cliff House is as strong as my commitment to my family — they are one and the same,” he says.