David Barzelay may be the most elusive chef in San Francisco.
His underground fine dining restaurant Lazy Bear is actually an anagram of his last name, but he’s anything but lazy.
The wait list for his pop-up dinners is massive, but now that David’s team recently acquired Hi-Lo BBQ as the home of their new restaurant in the Mission, reservations may be a bit more easy to come by. Although plans are under wraps for now, he kindly agreed to dish on some of the magic behind the scenes at Lazy Bear.
You’re known as such an innovative chef. How do you develop your inventive recipes?
We always try to keep ourselves entertained. When examining an ingredient, I try to pare it down to its unique and defining characteristics within my culinary taxonomy and experience. What is integral about the ingredient? For a carrot, it is of course the sweet earthiness, but also the memory of dipping it in ranch dressing as an after-school snack, and Daniel Patterson’s essay on carrots, and my relationship with the farmers from whom we buy the carrots. Sometimes it is purely a flavor pairing. Other times it is a classic dish we can make our own. Then we draw connections to other flavors and references, tasting things together. Ideally, a dish eventually connects several of those reference points.
You have devoted followers desperately trying to get a seat at one of your pop-up dinners. How does it feel to be an underground sensation and what has surprised you most about your acclaim?
The shocking thing is that, despite so many people trying to get into a given set of Lazy Bear dinners, so few cooks in the city even know about us, let alone have dined with us. It still feels like we are very much under the radar except for a small group of fervent diners.
I’m told you like to forage Twin Peaks for wild mustard, radish flowers, sorrel, and berries. Which other local flora and fauna do you like to highlight on your menus?
We don’t usually make time to go foraging unless there is something specific we want. But most of the produce we use is local. I buy it from farmers I get to look in the eye a couple times each week. They know I like the weird stuff. When a plant goes to seed, or bears some weird but edible fruit or flowers, the farmer might no longer be able to sell it. But that’s when I find it most interesting! So I get a lot of interesting stuff that lets us try new ideas.
Lazy Bear is known for its staples like your house-cultured butter. Which dishes do you hope to feature in the future?
With a few exceptions, we change up our dishes every couple weeks. We served brown butter brioche with cultured butter all through 2013, but now we have a completely different bread and butter course: we’re making molasses-infused baguettes served with cultured butter curds and whey. We still make the butter, but it’s presented in a completely different way. On the other hand, we’ve served what we now call “Caramelized Cookie Dough” as a mignardise at every Lazy Bear dinner ever, and for the last two years or so, we have started everyone’s meal with our whipped scrambled eggs.
Which restaurants do you admire (and frequent) in the Bay Area?
Nopa, Taqueria Cancun, Mission Chinese, Koi Palace, Commonwealth, Locanda, Cotogna…
What do you like to prepare for yourself when you eat at home with your wife?
We have fried rice about three nights per week.
What is in your refrigerator right now?
Rice for frying. Ketchup. Gochujang. Green olives. Various sherries and ports and beers. Eggs. Leftovers from Indian and Thai takeout. And an odd mix of Lazy Bear leftovers that I’ve brought home despite them being pretty much useless at home, like chive oil or salsify puree.
Favorite midnight snack? Ruffles potato chips with Philadelphia cream cheese.
Preferred cocktail? Anything well-made, but a Manhattan is my go-to.
Favorite greedy treat? Gamja fries from Namu as a mid-morning snack at the farmer’s market.
Favorite farmer’s market? Ferry Building.
Most nostalgic dive bar? I wish I had enough free time to have made grand old memories in dive bars. Our crew’s current go-to is the Royal Cuckoo on Mission Street South of Cesar Chavez.