Since 2001, chefs and co-owners Gayle Pirie ’81 and John Clark led Foreign Cinema to thirteen consecutive Top 100 rankings from the San Francisco Chronicle, and nominations from the James Beard Foundation for the Best Chef Pacific, and Most Outstanding Restaurant awards. With the opening of Show Dogs and Machine Coffee & Deli over the last few years, the former Torrian continues to strive for innovation in the ever-changing San Francisco food landscape.

Describe your experience at Cathedral High School. Throughout all four years at Cathedral, Sandra Gutcher was my academic counselor, and she was hugely influential. She helped me look for colleges and invested a lot of time in me. Elise Phillips taught English and history and was an amazing instructor. It was life-affirming to see a working woman and mother at Cathedral. I still keep in touch with both ladies, and they come by Foreign Cinema to visit. I would like to thank Janet Shapiro for her passion, her fortitude, and for putting up with strong-minded 16-year-olds. I am so happy I attended Cathedral High School.

How did you become a chef?

I went to school for painting and art history. I took jobs that were symbiotic to my passion which was painting and art. Cooking was an extension of my creative interests. I needed to finance my college education, so I truly fell into cooking. I first worked at Vicolo Pizza, where I met my partner, John Clark. We were lucky to then find positions at Zuni Café as line cooks. We were promoted to co-chefs de cuisine thereafter. I was getting my college education while working at Zuni Café. During that time, my painting fueled my cooking and cooking fueled my painting. After a long career at Zuni Café we decided to create a restaurant consulting business and moved to Hong Kong in 1993. We organized menus, trained chefs, then we came back to San Francisco and landed at Foreign Cinema. Thirteen years later we are still here.

At Foreign Cinema we change our menu daily. We are sustainable, nourishing, something that you can eat several times a week. Our food is balanced and good for you. Rather than maintaining a certain style in one dish, we strive for balance by flavor. We try to buy the best product with no hormones or antibiotics. Our version of a Pop Tart includes a buttery pastry filled with jam made from figs or nectarines. Sometimes you can be blown away by a meal, but not feel great after. People leave Foreign Cinema feeling inspired. We strive to create a 90 minute vacation for all of our guests.

Foreign Cinema

Can we expect a Foreign Cinema cookbook?

Yes. The cookbook is a labor of love that has been in progress for five or six years. We are trying to create a distinctive narrative voice and tell the history of the restaurant. Foreign Cinema opened in 1999. The menu is market-driven and changes every day. When we came to Foreign Cinema, Mission Street was not a premier destination. It was gratifying to ride that wave and perservere through the struggles. John and I were essentially hired to fix Foreign Cinema. The restaurant was in dire straits, and the team that opened Foreign Cinema was overextended. We began working in April of 2001 to save it. The space was originally conceived as a beer house and the idea to show films while diners were eating came about because of the big, open wall space. That made the name and sealed the deal.


Describe Show Dogs and Machine Coffee & Deli.

We opened Machine Coffee & Deli and Show Dogs in a tough area of the City. Both are very quality driven places. Machine’s menu reflects the name. We even display old Warfield Theater machines in the restaurant.

The 6th and Market corner struggled for years. Thankfully, it is finally becoming a destination. Showdogs serves housemade sausages, housemade mustard, and other high quality items. In many ways, it is homemade fast food.

Congratulations on your induction into Les Dames d’Escoffier International. Tell us about this distinction.

It is kind of a secret society of women who are in the culinary business, writers, chef, teachers. For years, cooking has been male dominated, and this illustrious group of women across the world are nominated by other women. Women are inducted for their practice in sustainability, teaching of others, and serving as an example of showing good stewardship of the land around you.

What is your advice for those who would like to cook professionally?

Avoid cooking school. Get a job at a good restaurant, work yourself up the line and keep your head down. A good restaurant will be your best education. Do not go into serious debt. Read cook books, eat out and work with a good chef!

Located in the

Heart of the city