By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap
Chef and restaurateur Jan Birnbaum, renowned throughout the culinary world as an unrivaled architect of creative cuisine and a virtuoso of bright flavors and intensity, runs the show at EPIC Roasthouse, the first new construction permitted on the magnificent San Francisco waterfront in more than 100 years. As chef and co-owner, Birnbaum brings to EPIC Roasthouse his signature philosophy of honest cooking and the experience of an acclaimed, 30-year career to create a menu of fun, inventive, contemporary interpretations of traditional steakhouse favorites.
Opened in early 2008, EPIC Roasthouse showcases an array of dishes from fish to fowl with a special focus on chops and steaks, included aged grass-fed beef, Kobe beef, pork and lamb from special farms, and a unique table-side aged prime rib service. True to Birnbaums’s no-nonsense approach to food, cooking and entertainment, all steaks are presented aged and bone-in, or, as he puts it: “Every steak will have a handle; everyone knows the best part is next to the bone.” I love to EPIC for Chefs 3xB’s BEER, BURGER & BROWNIE and all for $20 daily in the Quiver bar with the best vistas in the city.
“Cooking to me is about hospitality. My motto is…
It’s a pleasure to serve.”
– Jan Birnbaum, Partner and Executive Chef, EPIC Roasthouse
Birnbaum opened Catahoula in the town of Calistoga in the Napa Valley in 1994. As proprietor and chef, Birnbaum created a unique restaurant that quickly became a popular destination for serious food and wine lovers, earning rave reviews and glowing features in publications from the New York Times to Gourmet magazine. In 2003, Birnbaum closed Catahoula to explore new projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 1997, a collaborative effort with Kimpton Group of San Francisco resulted in downtown Seattle’s, Sazerac, named after the potent New Orleans cocktail. The restaurant is synonymous with “serious fun and damned good food.” A hit with Seattle’s dining public since opening, the large restaurant has been a tremendous success and now in its 10th year, remains one of the crown jewels in the Kimpton Group portfolio.
Prior to Catahoula and Sazerac, Birnbaum served as head chef at San Francisco’s prestigious Campton Place Hotel, elevating the restaurant to four-star status and garnering awards and accolades that included Food and Wine magazine’s Top 25 Restaurants in America, the DiRona Award for distinguished restaurants in North America, and the Conde Nast Traveler Distinguished Restaurant Award. He also was featured on Julia Child’s Master Chefs series on PBS.
Before arriving in the Bay Area, Birnbaum sharpened his skills and earned distinction at a number of esteemed restaurants throughout the U.S., including New York City’s Quilted Giraffe and The Rattlesnake Club in Denver. Birnbaum began his career in New Orleans with renowned chef Paul Prudhomme at yet another famous restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Starting as a baker, he worked his way up through the ranks to the position of lead cook.
I met the cooler than a cucumber Chef at EPIC Roasthouse on San Francisco’s Embarcadero where we talked food and his passions outside the kitchen. Chef whipped up a tasty soup too: Red Beer Soup with Spicy Cabbage Kraut. Enjoy the soup for Oktoberfest throughout October at EPIC and listen to the tasty pod cast for more.
5 Tasty Questions with Chef Jan Birnbaum
1. Define your cuisine.
My cuisine has been a number of things over the years. I’ve been an Asian Chef, I’ve been a Southwestern Chef, cooking rattlesnake at the Rattlesnake Club in Denver, I’ve been the head down Campton Place Detail Chef and now I’m trying to define contemporary steakhouses. I think that’s going to take a decade. It’s meat centered. I’d like to have a menu that’s balanced and everyone can eat at. The women decide where they eat, you better have some fish.
2. In your fridge; it’s midnight and you go there, what will we find?
There’s always a loaf of bread. I’m a big cheese lover. I still haven’t kicked the habit of mayonnaise. During the season, anything that’s ripe is fabulous; a great tomato, a perfect apple.
3. On the soundtrack to your culinary journey, you’re a guy with 40,000 songs on his iPod, I know, but you have to pick one song.
It’d have to be Freddie King “The Sky is Crying”. Freddie and a fellow from the WWOZ radio station did an interview one time and talked about what they do to decide what’s going to be on a record. Some studios say play what you feel and others tell you what to do. I’m not a very good “tell you what to do” kind of guy, you’ve got to feel it and as Freddie says “If you feel it, you can hear it when you sing it.”
4. If not a chef, in a second life you come around again, what career might you embrace?
I’m pretty sure I’m going to come back and play guitar a lot better than I play it today and I would really love to be able to play the Blues very well. I would love to speak it through my hands. At the same time, I like to live dangerously and I love speed, so I’d be a race car driver on the side.
5. At your last supper, you could have a couple of guests from the past or present, who will be at the table and what will you eat?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of great chef friends. They say you don’t have to be crazy, but it’s best to be, so that’s a bond that we’ve all had. Mark Franz, my partner at the Waterbar next door, is a great cook; he’d have to be there cooking beef cheeks. I had the great fortune of spending a week with Julia Child and we did a TV Show, Radio show and book for “Master Chef”. I’m not sure that I was a “Master Chef” yet, but they put me in it. My experience with her was incredible. I’m great friends with Jacques Pépin. I’ve been fortunate in 35 years to cook and teach as I go. Some of these people that have been worth a great investment and have on to do great things, I would want them to be there too.
Liam: Can I pull up a chair?
Chef Jan: Please. As long as you bring a proper bottle of wine, you’re there! That’s the only qualifying category.
Liam: With beef cheeks, a big bold Cab or maybe even a nice Pinot.
Chef Jan: You know if I’d live anywhere, burgundy under a tree might be where I’m going to be.
Liam: Done! See you there! Chef Jan, thank you, great answers.
Red Beer Soup with Spicy Cabbage Kraut
This lip smacking soup is known around both Catahoula and Sazerac as the “Cook’s Soup.” This is a soup that, unlike the Corn and Clam Chowder, that is a soup everyone likes. Beer soup is for a select group, but that select group will come back for its addictive flavor time and time again. It is best on a cold night in front of a blazing fire.
4 slices Bacon Julienned
1 Medium Onion, Diced
1/4 cup Honey
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
3 cups Cabbage, ½” rough cut
2 cup Red Beer (any reddish sweet amber beer)
4 pints Chicken Stock
1/2 cup Malt Vinegar
TT Salt and Pepper
TT Chili Oil
1/4 head Green Cabbages chiffanade
1 tsp. Garlic Finely Chopped
2 tbs. Honey
1 ea. Jalapeño Seeded and Julienned
1 tsp. Walnut Oil
1 tsp. Malt Vinegar
2 dashes Chili Oil
Assemble and allow to marinade in refrigerator for 2 days.
Render bacon slowly. Just before bacon begins to crisp add onions and cook slowly until they soften and begin to caramelize. Add garlic, cabbage and jalapenos. Cook until soft and then add honey and cook until toasty color and carefully add beer. Allow to reduce by half. Add chicken stocks. Season it with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook 1/2 hour. Add the vinegar and chili oil and strain.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and place a few tablespoons of the slaw in the center. Drizzle with more chili oil.
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