Inside Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett’s Curated Kitchen

Get a glimpse of the San Francisco chef’s impressive, expertly curated collection of cookware, plates, and bric-a-brac from Japan.

By Daniel Duane

Published on March 20, 2015

On a warm afternoon in San Francisco, Sylvan Mishima Brackett, the chef, owner, and chief flea-market addict at Rintaro, stands in the Mission District restaurant’s front garden explaining all the curios.

Brackett, whose personal style is more architect than chef, with close-shaven hair, wrinkled button-down shirt, and faded jeans cuffed just so, points to a tree-stump doorstop; it turns out to be a Japanese mortar called an usu, which is used for pounding rice into mochi. Nearby is an odd-looking cast-iron and copper stove—a woodburning rice cooker that looks as if it came straight out of a Kurosawa period piece.

“A friend of mine cooked on it for years in Japan’s countryside,” Brackett explains. “She said that I could have it if I paid for the shipping, so I did. I love how it evokes Old Japan. Very Meiji-era, pre-war.”

Born in Kyoto to a Japanese mother and an American father, Brackett grew up in the woods of California in a 16th-century–style Japanese wooden home built by his dad, Leonard, a carpenter. After college in Oregon, he cooked professionally in France and spent six years working as an assistant to Alice Waters.

In 2008, he moved to Japan and befriended Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of the cookbook Japanese Farm Food.

“Nancy lives in this beautiful old farmhouse north of Tokyo, and she loves flea-marketing,” Brackett says. “I had her take me to all the best places.”

Brackett bought knives from small smithies who once made Samurai swords. In junk shops and flea markets, he snapped up old woven baskets, kitchen tools, and plate sets from before World War I.

“They were factory-produced and then hand-painted,” Brackett says. “Disposable in their day, but charming.”

In 2009, he brought all this stuff back to the United States. He converted the shed behind his Oakland, California, home into a kitchen for Peko-Peko, a catering and bento-box business that doubled as a food and design laboratory for the development of what would one day be his very own izakaya.

For Rintaro, Brackett asked his father to construct elevated booths out of old-growth redwood boards and surrounded the open kitchen with a wooden bar made from a single slab of cedar that Leonard had been hoarding since 1976. He hung overexposed photos of the Italian Alps and Sicily by a Japanese photographer friend, and asked another, a DJ and industrial designer, to help him find vintage amplifiers and speakers.

Brackett put a big cast-iron deep-fry pot, from a junk shop in Saitama Prefecture, front and center in the kitchen for tempura. He combined flea-market plates with pottery by Yuko Sato, a local Bay Area artist and Rintaro cook, for serving his locavore Japanese dishes.

To step into Rintaro from the noisy streets of the Mission feels a little like walking from a Tokyo subway station into some ancient wooden temple that has been redone as a buzzy after-work joint. Nothing feels new, except for that cedar bar, which, to Brackett’s chagrin, has that recently refinished shine.

“I told my father I wanted the restaurant to feel like it had been around for a long time,” Brackett says. “He pointed out that you only get that by being around for a long time.”

Way in the back of the room, he points to a high shelf holding a kamidana, a miniature Shinto shrine for good luck.

“I’m not Shinto,” he admits with a laugh. “But I still tend to it—I put in the fresh rice, the little offerings. My cooks get a big kick out of it.”

Here are some of Brackett's favorite finds.

Nicole Franzen

Brackett's kitchen's shelves are lined with handmade ceramic cups and plates, as well as various types of Japanese teapots.

Nicole Franzen

Brackett finds beauty and utility in junk store castaways and handcrafted treasures. The sharkskin grater was found in Japan. The clay bowl is by Bay Area potter Yuko Sato and holds ikuradon, house-cured steelhead roe over rice.

Nicole Franzen

Outside his restaurant, Brackett keeps extra ceramics, baskets, and bottles in a shed at his home.

Nicole Franzen

In his antiques shed, under the watchful gaze of his grandmother, Brackett keeps specialty ingredients like bottles of Japanese vinegar, shochu, and mirin.

Nicole Franzen

Among Brackett's prized possessions are old ephemera, including these Japanese menus.

Nicole Franzen

A soba knife from the great chef Kanji Nakatani at Soba Ra in Japan sits atop a cutting board Brackett made himself in his father's shop.

Nicole Franzen

A vintage blue and white serving plate sits next to small ceramic soy sauce holders for bento boxes.


Nicole Franzen

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