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JHS Grad Earns Michelin Star At San Francisco Restaurant

David and Serena Fisher are pictured at their San Francisco-based restaurant, Marlena, which recently received its first Michelin star. David Fisher is a graduate of Jamestown High School. Photo by Tara Rudolph

David Fisher found his love for cooking at his dad’s restaurant, Fisher’s Family Restaurant, on West Third Street in Jamestown.

“I’ll never forget it,” Fisher said. “I remember flipping a perfect golden brown grilled cheese, and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do forever.'”

Fisher has certainly grown his love for cooking into a successful career as his San Fransico-based restaurant, Marlena, has just earned its first Michelin star — the highly coveted recognition awarded to restaurants found to be of high standard. Fisher and his wife, Serena, are overjoyed at the honor, especially as they opened a little over a year ago amid the pandemic.

Fisher is a Jamestown High School graduate and later attended Johnson and Wales University.

He and Serena met in New York City in 2013 and were working in Michelin star kitchens in that area for some time.

“When we were coming up, there was a lot of news about California and a lot of talk about a lot of beautiful produce,” he said. “It’s a beautiful state, so we were just kind of tired of looking at the concrete in New York. We got a job opportunity out here.”

The couple then relocated to San Mateo, Calif., 20 minutes outside of San Francisco, where Serena was originally from. He worked as Chef de Cuisine at Bird Dog, as well as Michelin star restaurant Sorrel.

“Once the pandemic hit, one day I was looking for jobs just to see who was hiring,” he said. “I saw an opportunity that was looking for a chef/owner and I applied. The dominoes kind of fell after that.”

This was not the first instance Fisher had come in contact with the space that would later become Marlena. When he worked at Sorrel, he attended a Michelin party at a park across from the location.

“Before I knew anything — before the pandemic and before anything happened — this restaurant, in particular, stood out to me,” he said. “It was just the beauty of the building and the location of it. I thought in my head, ‘I would really like to have a restaurant there.’ When I pulled up after applying to the ad, it was kind of like an ‘Ah ha’ moment of I’m going to do this no matter what.”

Fisher said he would call the cuisine style they serve “New American.” At one point, he said he featured a Buffalo chicken sandwich that was very popular. The menu offers a four-course meal with different selections, and those selections change often. The restaurant prints a menu each day to keep up with the changes, and many menu items focus on seasonal produce.

“I use a lot of old-school French technique, mixed with a lot of modern techniques showcasing California ingredients and even some stuff that I grew up with,” he said.

The restaurant’s name was chosen for its familial significance — Fisher’s mother, Marlene, passed away in 2014. Serena said Marlene always supported Fisher’s endeavors as a chef, so they chose to name the restaurant after her. Marlene was also instrumental in Fisher’s Family Restaurant in Jamestown.

The family restaurant has been in business for 25 years, and Fisher said he is proud of that legacy. While their cooking styles differ, he is continuing the family legacy in a different way. He said his father is very proud and has been there every step of the way on his journey.

“He wondered why I moved out of town and why I work such long hours and put basically all my energy into my work,” he said. “And this is why. I think it’s good for him to see that — there is an outcome and even a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Fisher said while there are differences between his restaurant and his father’s restaurant, the idea of a small, family-run restaurant is the same. Due to the pandemic, prices are sky-rocketing, Fisher said, which can put pressure on restaurants, especially in small towns like Jamestown. He said he hopes that people will take that into account if smaller restaurants in the area, like Fisher’s Family Restaurant, raise their prices.

As for the process they have been through regarding the Michelin star, Fisher and Serena said it is shrouded in mystery. Serena said the rumor is that “even families of Michelin inspectors don’t know that their partners or their spouses are Michelin inspectors.”

“It’s supposed to be very secretive,” she said. “There’s also a rumor that typically when they come to inspect, that they are usually single diners. So every time a solo diner comes in, you don’t know if they’re a Michelin inspector or you don’t know if they’re one of the neighbors that just walked in from across the street. It keeps it interesting.”

Fisher said the Michelin inspectors look for specific characteristics such as the technique and skill of the chef, ingredients, ambiance, service and other areas. It is said that the inspectors come back multiple times and may not be the same inspector each time.

“It’s a fairly lengthy vetting process,” Serena said. “They want to check on the consistency across multiple visits.”

When a restaurant earns a Michelin star, that doesn’t mean that it is a Michelin star for life, she added.

“I feel like for us it’s a really big motivation,” she said. “It’s rewarding for the team because they’ve been through it with us … but at the same time, it’s been really rewarding and I feel like it’s motivation to help us continue.”

Fisher said the Michelin star is just a starting point. In the future, he and his wife hope to open more restaurants as well.

“It’s just the beginning,” he said.

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