2016 San Francisco Rising Star Chef David Barzelay of Lazy Bear

2016 San Francisco Rising Star Chef David Barzelay of Lazy Bear
May 2016

It was after he’d enrolled at Georgetown Law that Floridian David Barzelay began hosting dinner parties, realizing his passion lay in the kitchen—not the law library. That didn’t sway him immediately, though. 

Barzelay, now a lawyer, moved across the country. In 2009, on the heels of a series of layoffs at his law practice, Barzelay hit the cookbooks as hard as he’d hit the law books. He also began stageing around San Francisco’s top restaurants, such as Commonwealth and Nopa. In 2009, he took on his first paying position, cooking one day a week at Mission Street Food. Barzelay even traveled back across the country to stage for Sean Brock (whom he connected with over social media) in his quest to amass technical prowess and taste everything.   

The skills and inspiration he accumulated and assimilated into his own cooking fueled Barzelay’s increasingly elaborate dinner parties. The gatherings moved to a warehouse that accommodated feasts for 40 guests. Propelled by its popularity and Barzelay’s creative vision, format-busting Lazy Bear opened in the Mission in 2014, serving two seatings of 40 ticketed guests per night. Evenings begin in the loft with cocktails and snacks, before guests descend to two large communal tables. Chefs at Lazy Bear are at once hosts, cooks, servers, and bussers—and Barzelay leads an army of them. In 2015, Lazy Bear received a Michelin Star, was named one of Bon Appetit’s “Top 50 Restaurants,” and in 2016 Barzelay was named a Food & Wine “Best New Chef.”

Interview with San Francisco Rising Star David Barzelay of Lazy Bear

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
David Barzelay:
I was a lawyer, and I got laid off in 2009. So, I started cooking in my apartment and throwing dinner parties where people paid. After a year, I started cooking in a weird little warehouse "underground." People always thought we moved around, so the health department wouldn’t know, but we didn't. I built the kitchen out quite a bit. I taught myself how to cook in law school at Georgetown; I could always keep myself fed. And I did some stages before I opened my own restaurant.

SK: Where did you stage? 
DB: I staged at Nopa and then Mission Street Food hired me for one day a week, which was encouraging. Even after I opened, I did stages at Commonwealth, Aldea, and McCrady’s. 

SK: Who is your mentor?
I don’t really have any culinary mentors. I’ve always cooked for myself.

SK: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
Once a month I do wine and beer dinners where I invite local breweries and wineries to come in, and guest chefs to come in and cook.

SK: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Doing food we can be proud of. Sometimes you’re immediately inspired and sometimes you have a deadline. We’re making adjustments daily, constantly pushing to get better. We’re a very new restaurant. There’s a lot to balance: time to be creative, time to manage, time to learn. I want the staff to feel valued and that they are succeeding. We’re attracting a lot of talent through all of this great buzz, and we have a fun kitchen.

SK: How big is your team?
I have about 30 to 35 people on staff. 

SK: What's your most important kitchen rule?
 Wash your hands, and work deliberately.

SK: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry so much about the long-term. Do what makes you happy right now.