Sous Beurre Kitchen owner and chef Michael Mauschbaugh has had a pig leg hanging in his apartment kitchen for almost two years.
“There’s been many times when I’m doing dishes and I think, hmmm this looks really good,” the Mission resident said. But he’s holding off to make sure the prosciutto is aged just right, and that will probably mean another two to three months.
When it’s ready, he’ll share it with friends and customers at his restaurant, which recently opened inside Sugarlump Café at 24th and Bryant streets. On most days, it’s where he can be found, making French food, charcuterie and sausages from scratch.
“I’d be happy with a butcher shop that does dinners on Fridays and Saturdays,” the chef said.
On a recent weekday, Mauschbaugh was cutting pieces of pork shoulder and smoked bacon to grind. He made 24 feet of thin pork sausages that day and served them on top of cassoulet, a southwestern French bean dish.
“I don’t have a smoker,” he said, so he uses smoked bacon to get around that.
Actually, there are a lot of things that Mauschbaugh doesn’t have. The Sous Beurre Kitchen is an example of “less is more.”
When he answered the Craigslist ad asking for a pop-up chef to cook inside the coffee shop, he found out that all he had to work with was a panini grill and a small oven. There was no gas and no hood.
Mauschbaugh, who has worked at Berkeley’s Eccolo, and Bacar and Spire in San Francisco, didn’t let that stop him.
After cooking a five-course meal for the owners and getting their approval, he went online and launched a Kickstarter campaign. In one and half months, he raised $9,000. Last summer he opened Sous Beurre Kitchen, where he now serves dinner five nights a week and brunch on Sundays.
The Illinois native said he’s flattered by how welcoming people in the neighborhood have been. His next-door neighbor asked recently if he wanted to plant herbs in her backyard.
“It’s a bit surprising; I’m doing rustic French food in the heart of the Mission. It’s very flattering,” he said.
He chose rustic French cuisine, he says, because it embodies the heart of sourcing food and of seasonality.
“French terroir is the root of eating where you’re from, it’s all part of the community thing that I think is so important. The French also know how to eat,” Mauschbaugh said.
The 30-year-old chef got into the restaurant business at 14 as a dishwasher. He then worked his way up, working in several kitchens.
He moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota, where he majored in illustration. While in school, he landed a job as a line cook at Lucia’s, a restaurant that has been a James Beard nominee several times.
Although working in the kitchen started off as a way to make money, he fell in love with it — so much so that he dropped out of college, even though he was only 12 credits away from graduating.
Later on, while working at a French fine dining restaurant, Mauschbaugh decided he wanted to become a chef.
“I started formulating plans on opening my own restaurant. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to sail that ship, so I then moved out here,” he said, referring to his 2008 move to the Bay Area.
Inspired by restaurants like Chez Panisse, he wanted to learn more about cooking with local products and making charcuterie and sausages.
A friend from Minneapolis who was working at Eccolo helped him get an interview, and after two apprenticeships, he was hired as a line cook. He then moved to Bacar, where he was taught about sourcing and cooking seasonally.
For Sous Beurre, which means “in butter” in French, he purchases all of his produce and most of his meat from True Grass Farms in Valley Ford, approximately 60 miles north of San Francisco.
Mauschbaugh met Matthew Ellias, who works on the farm, a few years ago while they were both working at Eccolo.
The chef goes up there as often as he can, but less so now that he’s cooking most nights. In the spring, he wants to organize a two-day trip to the farm with a small group of people. Guests will be able to camp on the farm and Mauschbaugh will make dinner and brunch.
He also wants to help True Grass Farms promote a beef community-supported agriculture (CSA) group they’re starting. Mauschbaugh wants Sous Beurre to become a pickup location for CSA members.
Buying from small farms is more expensive but worth the extra cost, he said as he looked at eggs that were laid in the last two days.
After closing the refrigerator, he turned to his professional Kitchen Aid mixer, put on the meat grinder attachment and started pushing pieces of meat through it.
“I was tired of trying to fulfill someone else’s dream,” he said when asked why he wanted to open a restaurant.
What started as a pop-up has become a somewhat regular restaurant.
“Maybe we’re a symbiotic kitchen?” he asked, adding that there probably isn’t a term for it yet.
“It’s not set up to be a restaurant; there’s weird tables and chairs,” he said. But “it’s a learning experiment.”
Most dishes on the menu — which on a recent weekday included acorn squash with bourbon-roasted apples and sage salsa verde, Dungeness crab ravioli, and duck breast with celeriac puree — are $15 and under.
They portions are smaller than at most French restaurants in town, but because most of the dishes are so hearty, it’s hardly noticeable.
Mauschbaugh makes dishes he enjoys. He doesn’t bake — or very rarely.
“Honestly, I hate baking. I like pork better,” he said as he took a small piece of ground pork out of the mixing bowl, rolled it into a ball and placed it on the hot panini grill.
Dishes that take a long time to make don’t seem to scare him. He learned at Eccolo that it’s better to have a customer wait an extra five minutes if that means the dish will taste better.
At Sous Beurre, he applies that rule to his own cooking: His cassoulet takes two days. The sausage casings have to soak overnight and his duck confit sits in a water bath for eight hours. Maybe that explains why he’s been able to keep that pig leg hanging in his kitchen for so long.