Photos by Molly Decoudreaux
John Hall and Erin Cochran-Bruce, two longtime friends who met in culinary school, are the chefs and creatives behind Farmhand Kitchen. With their seed-to-table concept, they present elegantly simple menus crafted with a bounty they grow themselves and source from local providers.
John and Erin have a combined 40 years of cooking experience across the country. Erin cooked in many New York City and San Francisco kitchens, while John had his own restaurant in the wine-growing community of Sonoita, Arizona. He also helped run several restaurants in Phoenix with his friend, chef Chris Bianco. When John moved to San Francisco in 2014, he and Erin decided to get back into the kitchen together, and Farmhand was born. To keep tabs on what they’re up to, follow them on Facebook and Instagram!
How the Farmhand concept came to be:
In 2014, Erin enrolled in an apprenticeship program at Green String Farm in Petaluma when she decided she wanted more than just fire-escape tomato plants. Longtime Chez Panisse farmer Bob Cannard taught her “natural process” farming, or how to grow both produce and life within the soil.
Erin started her own farm the following year, growing produce for San Francisco restaurants like Octavia, Foreign Cinema, and Atelier Crenn. In late 2017, she and her wife put down literal roots in Cotati where she now grows food entirely for Farmhand Kitchen. To round out Farmhand’s menus, John scours farmers markets four times a week (he’s an Oakland resident!) and works with partner farmers.
The main influences on your cooking:
JOHN: Mamma, the Basques, Mexican-Italian grandmothers, farmers, people who work tirelessly everyday to set high standards of front-of-house service, and the warm embrace of good food and company.
ERIN: Bob Cannard of Green String Farm and traveling experiences that involved simple, regional foods direct from their place.
A time you failed spectacularly in the kitchen:
JOHN: The first time I cooked for friends, I put six habanero chiles in my grandmother’s soup recipe because I thought they were pretty. Somehow I managed to have a few friends and keep cooking.
Proudest cooking moment:
ERIN: Picking a ripe tomato off the vine, feeding it to someone and having them tell me it is the best thing they’ve ever tasted.
The ingredients you always have on hand:
JOHN: Olive oil and ice cream.
ERIN: Every type of vinegar I can find. And butter — I compulsively buy butter.
The one thing you won’t eat:
ERIN: Meat from a factory farm.
JOHN: Bugs with a lot of little legs.
The go-to dish you cook for yourself when off the clock:
ERIN: A big pot of beans topped with avocado, tomato, and lots of hot sauce.
Food trends you love and hate:
ERIN: I love that everyone is getting on the farm-to-table train. I hate how brands like McDonald’s and Nestlé are using it as a marketing ploy to get people to buy their food.
Favorite food reads, podcasts, or shows:
JOHN: The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand by Jim Harrison; Simple Cooking by Jim Thorne; anything by Paula Wolfert, Richard Olney, Diana Kennedy, or the guys from Joe Beef in Montreal [Dave McMillan and Fred Morin].
ERIN: Kitchen Work by Matt Straus and some of the Chef’s Table episodes — mostly the ones about women.
Favorite dish in SF:
ERIN: Quesadilla suiza from Taqueria Can Cun. Hands down.
JOHN: Chile verde gorditas from Las Palmas Mexicatessan. They remind me of home.