It’s not often that a chef can cook you an amazing dish and cross-examine a witness, but David Barzelay could kick ass at both.
The Tampa native started daydreaming about cooking while enrolled at Georgetown Law, and after getting laid off from his associate attorney position in San Francisco during 2009’s financial crisis, he began staging (a.k.a. working for free) in the city’s best restaurants. At the same time he started experimenting with recipes at home, throwing multi-course dinner parties with his wife under the moniker “Lazy Bear,” where dirty dishes had to be placed in the bedroom to create more space, and goats were left on ice in the bathtub waiting to be butchered. Yes, GOATS.
After five years of hosting the underground operation, Barzelay opened a permanent location to serve his 10 x weekly tasting menu, where guests can dine on dishes such as Rabbit with Snails and Sweet Pea Custard with Cured Steelhead Roe. Bathtub not included.
1. What’s an underrated food city and why?
I’m going to say Tampa, my hometown. There is very little that is distinctive about Tampa, but it does have the best Cuban food anywhere in the world (including Cuba, or so I’m told). The early wave of Cuban immigrants brought a much more opulent and complex version of Cuban cuisine, before Cuban cuisine changed out of necessity into something more staple crop-based. If you know where to look in and outside the city, you can also find “cracker” cuisine (not a racist term, I swear) unique to the inland Florida swamp country. It’s similar to other Southern low country cuisines, but with a uniquely Floridian slant, featuring products like frog legs, alligator tail, possum, turtle, rattlesnake, and the abundant swamp cabbage (heart of palm). And if you’re not quite that adventurous, Bern’s Steakhouse is still the best, most old-school steakhouse and former bordello in the country.
2. What food/food trend are you tired of?
Kale. Fermented everything. Spice mixes (as opposed to singular and identifiable flavors).
3. How do you feel about Yelp?
Yelpers don’t always know much about food, but they usually know a lot about how a restaurant made them feel. So when they focus on the subjective aspects of their experience, I think they usually get it right, and manage to identify a lot of areas for restaurants to work on. When they try to speak with objectivity or authority, or assume that the one meal they had is representative of every meal the restaurant ever serves, their utility is questionable.
4. If your kitchen is burning down, what’s the one gadget you save?
The espresso machine! It’s a Synesso Cyncra 2, and is probably the most expensive and most awesome piece of equipment we have.
5. Your guilty pleasure food?
McDonald’s, but it’s not even a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure. They have spent millions and millions of research dollars ensuring that it is fucking delicious, and it is.
6. If you could cook for one person who would it be?
My mother! Both of my parents are good home cooks, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen growing up. Now I love to cook for them.
7. What are five ingredients that are always in your pantry?
Honey, Tabasco, Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce, buttermilk, mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s). Not coincidentally, all of those go into making ranch dressing, which I consider a mother sauce.
8. What’s the one mistake most amateur chefs make?
Most home cooks start cooking dinner without prepping all the ingredients. It’s hard to focus on the cooking and timing when you are also still chopping vegetables. Instead, prep all the ingredients so that all you have to do to finish is throw them all in at the appropriate times.
9. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Your career should be the thing you can’t keep yourself from doing in your spare time.
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