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September 8, 2014

Local Chef: Jan Birnbaum

Jan Birnbaum

Learn from some of the city’s top chefs about the best places to go for late night grub, their favorite recipes and what makes San Francisco dining utterly unique. We asked Jan Birnbaum, partner and former chef of EPIC Roasthouse, about his inspirations, what his last meal in San Francisco would be and much more. We even got him to share one of his favorite summer cocktail recipes with us. EPIC Roasthouse offers the diner a unique yet familiar steakhouse menu that will leave you stuffed but wanting more. 

The best places to eat late in SF:

1. Yuet Lee at the corner of Broadway and Stockton.
2. Nopa on Divisadero is the real go-to.
3. Absinthe has been committed to a late-night food concept for a while and is always good and fun.

What inspired you to become a chef?

When I was 10, I prepared one of my first sunday brunches for my extended family of about 12: mother, father, brother, and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. I still feel the emotion of the standing ovation I received almost 50 years later. 

What would your last meal (dish) be in SF?

It has to be a progressive meal:
1. One Anchor Steam and a Steamed Dungeness Crab and a combination Shrimp and Crab Salad at The Larocca’s Swan Oyster Depot around 3pm when you have a chance to just walk in and sit at the bar with little or no wait.
2. A Margarita (the only shot of Tequila I drink in a year) at Zuni Café with a dozen fresh oysters would be a fine afternoon.
3. Tuna Tartar with a glass of perfect Bubbles at the Bar at Michael Mina’s.
4. Steak Tartar and Bone Marrow at Epic with an Esoteric Pink wine based on Syrah and Morvedre.
5. Caviar service with a Gin Martini at The Ritz.
6. Perfect fish preparations at Farallon.
7. Steak and Red wine at Bobos.

Your favorite food or style and why (Seafood, Thai food, Indian food, etc.).

Who would have thought it? Perfect seafood preparations make me the most happy the most often. Growing up and living in the Coastal areas of the United States the connection with fish and seafood is steeped into my growth. 

On sourcing Bay Area ingredients:

It’s all a network. After 25 years in the Bay Area, I have been fortunate to meet and know the local growers. In America, there is no better town to live in to be exposed to this culture of growers.  I not only love the product but value the trusted relationship with this special layer of people who share the excitement.

How does SF influence you as a chef? 

There is no better stage in America.  The farmer, the artisan, the weather for a long and vigorous growing season, the culture and respect for the product, there are only a few places in the world that can boast all that.  There is no better market for a public to serve.

What’s your favorite SF neighborhood and why? 

It could be argued that SF is just one big neighborhood. As small as this “City” is, each microhood has something to add.

What is your favorite spring/summer cocktail recipe?

Slippery When Wet: Wet and slippery is my take on the Pacific Northwest drink known as the Dark and Stormy. This is a rum drink made with Ginger Beer. Because of my southern roots, Root Beer and Birch Beer were staples.

1.5 oz.                  Spiced Rum
½ Bottle               Boylan Birch Bottleworks Creamy Red
1 wedge               Lime
Pour the rum over crushed ice. Top with ice cold Birch or Root Beer. Garnish with lime wedge. Add 1 cup of organic strawberries, a wedge of ripe melon, or half of a peach and run the drink in the blender with 5 cubes of ice and you have a perfect summer and spring concoction. Or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have dessert.


Chef and restaurateur Jan Birnbaum is a partner and former Executive Chef at EPIC Roasthouse where he pushed out an array of dishes from fish to fowl with a special focus on chops and steaks. Starting in Louisiana, Jan Birnbaum worked his way up through the ranks starting as a baker at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen eventually becoming the lead cook. Before arriving in the Bay Area, Birnbaum sharpened his skills and earned distinction at a number of esteemed restaurants through the U.S., including New York City’s Quilted Giraffe and the Rattlesnake Club in Denver. After working in the Napa Valley for about 10 years, Birnbaum made his way to the city to open EPIC Roasthouse in 2008.

Photo by LMarino / CC BY-NC

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