Kitchen Confidential: David Barzelay Is The Energizer Bunny

David Barzelay_Credit Lazy Bear

Despite David Barzelay calling his brilliantly innovative restaurant Lazy Bear, an anagram of his surname, the executive chef of one of San Francisco’s hautest eateries is anything but a slacker. Twice a night, five times a week, he hosts the most unique dinner party in San Francisco in his Mission district spot that celebrates its first anniversary this month. It works like this: foodies buy their non-refundable tickets online in advance to one of two seatings in the same manner as one does to a concert or sporting event, and show up salivating at the same time. Barzelay and his talented staff put on a show of sorts for the diners, who sit communal-style at two long, American elm slab tables. Before each of the 12ish courses on the frequently-changing tasting menu (there are also extras), is served, a chef stands before the diners to talk about the dish the foodies will devour next. It’s a concept Barzelay—he and his wife used to host entertaining dinner parties for strangers in their home—first launched in an empty warehouse in 2009, before Lazy Bear found its permanent home last September. We caught up with the former-attorney-turned-culinary-genius as he finished one of his thrice-weekly trips to the farmers’ market, to talk about his novel restaurant, which was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant.

Were you the first restaurant here to use the Tock ticketing system?
We had been selling tickets the entire five years it was an underground restaurant. When it came time to open the brick-and-mortar place, we checked out what Alinea (in Chicago) was offering with their system, and decided to go with that. It turned out that Coi actually implemented it before we opened by like a month. Ticketing, in general, works very well for us. The beta version of Tock that we’ve been using leaves a lot to be desired. The new version of Tock apparently has a lot of features that will make it a [much] better experience for us, and for users.

Do you use the app Periscope, which lets you broadcast live video, in the Lazy Bear kitchen?
My partner Derek Dukes sometimes does. He’s a tech guy. He was one of the first employees at Yahoo, and he’s run a number of startups in the past. He’s always on top of the latest apps and all of that. I’m relatively up on things as well. I was a computer science major, among other majors, so I have a software background as well.

Do you manage your own Instagram?
Yeah, I do all of the Instagram and Twitter. I like to put things out there just to show off what we’re doing and keep guests interested. Instagram and Twitter, for me, are more about connecting with other people in the industry and seeing what they’re doing, and showing off what we’re doing—to learn from each other and to force ourselves to push harder, always improve. There’s certainly a bit of a culture of one-upmanship on the kinds of restaurants that we aspire to be, so when we see that somebody does something, of course we want to be inspired by it and see what we can do with those ideas, or see which of our own ideas inspires [others].

Are you seeing repeat customers?
We have people that come every other week, or people that come every month. We have some people who bring a different set of clients every couple weeks, and we take note. If we know somebody is coming back and they were just here two weeks ago, we’ll try to not have as many things as they had last time. We’ll make special things just for them.

You’re a self-taught chef. How did that happen?
I grew up cooking with my parents; they’re both great home cooks. When I got to college, I started cooking for myself. Towards the end of college, I would just try to make a dish, any dish that I had never made. If there was something I had at a restaurant that I really liked, I would make it back at the dorm. At the beginning of law school, I started throwing dinner parties; and the dinner parties just got bigger and bigger. By the end of my first year of law school, I was spending all of my time cooking and reading about cooking. It was my passion. It just continued after law school, which might have contributed to my getting laid off [as an attorney].