Recently, we caught up with Greg Lutes, Chef/Proprietor of 3rd Cousin.

Can you tell us a little about the history of 3rd Cousin and how it came to be located on Cortland Avenue?

I moved to Bronte Street in 2012 and wanted to open my place but lacked funds and a following in SF. So I rented out 903 Cortland 3 nights a week and started a pop-up called Kinfolk. I did this for a year and got the lease for the space I’m in now because of what I was doing and because I could show proof of concept.

Duck breast with sweat and sour cherries

Duck breast with sweat and sour cherries

I did a Kickstarter and a handful of investors, which opened me. I changed the name to 3rd Cousin due to a trademark issue.

What does it mean to be a Michelin Guide restaurant?

It means validation from a trusted critical eye. Being in the guide has increased our profile and helped introduce us to more people. It took six years, but Bernal isn’t a place known for its dining scene, but that’s changed since I opened.

Can you walk us through your menu and highlight some of your most popular dishes?

The uni creme brûlée is my top dish and my signature dish. It’s startling, good, and unique. The pasta and risotto are a big draw, like any other seafood dish like the local black cod and scallops. The tasting menu is how 40% of all diners go with my chef tasting menu, which includes the Uni creme brûlée and several dishes that are not on the area-carte menu, like Elk with white asparagus, Japanese Wagyu, and my chocolate hoho, which leads me to any of my housemade desserts. My menu is seasonal, with local produce moving in and out with the seasons.

uni crème brûlée

uni crème brûlée

How do you source your ingredients and ensure their quality?

Shopping at the Ferry Building Farmers Market is the best way to produce. I hand select most of my produce, working with farmers for 11 years, many of whom I am now friends with. The meats and seafood come from local fishing boats when in season. Trusted vendors that I have close relations with.

What inspired you to open a restaurant, and what do you enjoy most about running the business?

I enjoy the creative process and working with my kitchen team on new dishes and recipes. Interaction with guests at the table, welcoming folks in like a family members, and treating them as such is also high on the list as it’s the core of our hospitality ethos. After eight years as 3rd Cousin, it’s also about treating all of my staff as family members as they are the pillars of 3rd Cousin, and I am grateful to have had some of them for almost all eight years.

Strawberry bavarois

Strawberry bavarois

I noticed you’d offered cooking classes; how is that and when is the next series?

I used to do a handful of donation classes for kids in partnership with Sprouts Cooking Club, a nonprofit. I also recently donated one to Sprouts which is a Bruch cooking class. However, I have only done them for charity.

I work a lot with Sprouts.

I am, however, working on one for our subscribers. So I don’t know when It will be.

What does it mean to be a Bernal Heights business?

I wanted to be here for the neighborhood and build something nice to add to the charm.

I am from a small town in Illinois, and Bernal feels like a small town in a city. It has a quaint feel to it, which I like. My goal was to build an iconic Bernal Heights restaurant, and It feels good to have accomplished that.

3. Burrata with pole beans, sun gold tomatoes

Burrata with pole beans, sun gold tomatoes

How did you adapt your business during the pandemic, and what measures have you taken to ensure the safety of your customers and staff

We did a lot of takeouts and changed the menu with a burger, ribs, and more pasta. Things that would take out well. We also did a lot of family meals on holidays. I bought a lot of Covid tests and PPP; we sanitize everything all the time. We built an amazing parklet.

Can you share any memorable customer experiences or stories from your time running 3rd Cousin?

One of my best guests and regulars is Bobby McFerrin (Famous for Don’t Worry Be Happy). I have gotten to know him and his wife over the last few years, and it’s always fun to hear his stories and memories of his career. For example, he told me a story about how, when on tour with Robin Williams, they would be in the limo together, and he would be cracking jokes and playing around just riding to the gig.

What new and exciting things can we expect in the coming months?

  • We are participating in Dining Out For Life, partnering with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation community on April 25th.
  • We are making a wine dinner with Hamel Family Wines on May 4th
  • Restaurant week which we will have a special menu, is April 14-25th three courses for $75

Thanks for your interest in 3rd Cousin and me.

Behind the Scenes of 3rd Cousin: An Interview with Greg Lutes

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