As David Bazirgan was working his way up in culinary circles, he was also working his way west, to San Francisco.
A native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, he started out washing dishes in a restaurant in his hometown, but his interest was piqued enough to attend the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Boston, where he immersed himself in French technique.
Over the next eight years, he worked with some of Boston’s top chefs, including Stan Frankenthaler (Salamander) and Todd English (Olives). But it was his mentor, the ground-breaking Boston chef Barbara Lynch, who gave him his first job out of culinary school, at Galleria Italiana. Eventually, she asked him to be the chef de cuisine at her new No. 9 Park in Boston, where he served on the opening team and garnered attention for his meticulous seven- to nine-course tasting menus. He stayed there for five years.
Ready for a new challenge, Bazirgan moved to San Francisco in 2003, and it was there that his profile really started rising. After a brief stint at the restaurant Elizabeth Daniel, he moved to Baraka restaurant where he was named a Rising Star Chef by both the San Francisco Chronicle and StarChefs. He also fell in love with the food of Japan and Southeast Asia, which is well represented in San Francisco. “The flavors are just so exciting, the balance of heat and sweetness, and the focus on fresh ingredients and seasonal cooking,” he says.
At Fifth Floor, Bazirgan joined a storied line-up of high-profile chefs who had helmed the restaurant, including Greg Marrone and Laurent Manrique. He brought his own touch of Mediterranean and Asian influences in such dishes as Confit Octopus and Uni Flan, after the restaurant did away with its longtime tasting menu and introduced a la carte service and a more casual bar menu. However, it’s not surprising that the restaurant ultimately became dated. “Times had changed, and we were no longer successful,” explains the chef. “People were no longer that interested in tasting menus and fussy food. And the labor situation in San Francisco had become brutal,” as minimum wages rise and more restaurants compete for a limited pool of talent.
Dirty Habit, says Bazirgan, reflects how people want to eat today, especially when they’re socializing over cocktails. Customers are responding, and Dirty Habit has received numerous accolades: Best restaurant openings, best cocktail bars and best bar snacks from the likes of Eater, Zagat and Tasting Table.
He doesn’t miss the old style of cooking at all. “I’m not hanging over every plate with tweezers,” he says. “I cook what I love, and we build flavor through prep techniques and high-quality ingredients, so there’s less pressure on the pickup. I’m really happy with what we’re doing here.”