At least twice a week, Ralph Burgin starts his day on the family farm in Sonoma. Alone with the birds and more than 1500 organically grown tomato plants, he picks any heirlooms that have ripened overnight and heads south with the harvest.
By the time he arrives in San Francisco, Burgin has traded blue jeans for his chef’s whites at the historic Cliff House. He and his staff in the landmark’s restaurants take over from there, turning all 41 varieties of Burgin’s farm fresh tomatoes into savory lunch and dinner dishes.
Burgin planted his first garden nearly a decade ago so that he could enjoy the flavor of sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes. Each year since, he has increased its size until it now covers nearly an acre of land once used as a horse paddock. It yields enough tomatoes of all shapes, colors and sizes to keep the Cliff House supplied between July and November.
His heirlooms benefit from the same cool foggy nights and warm days that produce excellent wine grapes in the Carneros region. “I grow them with no artificial fertilizers and not much water, so the fruit is a little smaller and the flavor is more concentrated than in most tomatoes,” Burgin said.
Born in Germany’s restaurant-rich Rhine Valley, Burgin has worked as a chef in celebrated restaurants throughout Europe and the United States for more than 30 years. During this period, he won several culinary awards and earned 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.
In addition to his chef and management responsibilities at the Cliff House, Chef Ralph 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 popular treats. The Bloody Mary mix was developed in 2014 and both are available in more than 25 stores throughout the Bay Area.
The Cliff House was originally built in 1863, but has undergone three rebuilds and four major renovations, the last of which ended in 2003. It is located at the western-most point of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offering diners breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Sutro’s at The Cliff House is open every day for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The Bistro is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 pm for breakfast and lunch, and from 4:30 pm to 9:30 p.m. for dinner. Sunday Champagne Brunch Buffet is offered in the Terrace Room from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.