Fifth Floor's David Bazirgan: "I Haven't Had This Much Fun Cooking, Ever"

Categories: 'Eat' Extra
David_Bazirgan.jpg
Fifth Floor
David Bazirgan, chef of Fifth Floor.
En route to writing about Fifth Floor, the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review, I talked to David Bazirgan, who's been the chef there since November. What I wanted to know: In the era of the small, idiosyncratic restaurant, why take a job at a hotel? Turns out he's having the time of his life:

SFoodie: So I'm familiar with your time at Baraka and Chez Papa Resto [where Bazirgan was last chef], but not with your experience before that.

Bazirgan: I came out to San Francisco from Boston, where I was chef de cuisine under Barbara Lynch at No. 9 Park. When I moved out here, I was sous-chef for Daniel Patterson at Elisabeth Daniel, then went on to Baraka and was there for a good while. From there, I helped [Baraka owner] Jocelyn Bulow with Chez Papa Bistrot, and at one time was running four restaurants for him. After that, I took a slight hiatus, tried to open my own gig, then went on to open Chez Papa Resto, and was there for 2 years.

Then I got the call from Fifth Floor. Getting back into something like this, I knew it was going to be all or nothing. Lot of big shoes to fill in this house. I put in a lot of effort here, but I haven't had this much fun cooking, ever.

My last meal at Fifth Floor under Melissa Perello was very different from what you're doing -- very serene, Cal-Med food. Seems like you're bringing in a lot of different seasonings and techniques.

I was cooking Spanish Moroccan at Baraka, and Barbara's homed in on Italian and some French, but for me, I love using those techniques and bringing them together with whatever I want to bring in. I'm in Japantown one week, at the Indian grocery the next, and trying to stick with using all the bounty of the produce here. 

It's all amazing, we all know it, and I'm trying to think how I can incorporate that produce together with different flavors and spices. My idea is not just to try and wow the guests but introduce a new flavor profile that they may not have tasted with a really nice cut of steak, for instance. 

We're definitely trying a lot of [modernist] techniques too -- no liquid nitrogen, but there's spherification, there's emulsions, there's foams and bubbles. To me, they just add on to the presentations and textures.

It seems like there's a big change in what hotel restaurants are doing. They're going more casual, and some chefs are leaving. You've moved in the opposite direction, though.

The Fifth Floor is such a destination. We don't get walk-ins, there's no visibilty on the street, so it's all online reservations. I have seen a bit of scaling back in hotels -- playing it safe and catering to who's traveling. Dining in general has scaled back. For me, I have that 10-item [casual] lounge menu -- we need that here. But it's still great to have a restaurant that still pushes the envelope. We need to have both.

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Fifth Floor

12 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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