The culinary tour from drive-in hamburger house in Turlock, California to the most successful food show in radio history is a tale well told by Narsai David. Born to Assyrian immigrants, Narsai’s story began in Chicago where he joined his family in transporting bushels of summer tomatoes and peaches home for canning. The family later moved to the central California farming community of Turlock where Narsai was called into culinary service early.
“There were no daughters,” recalls Narsai. “In an old country family, surely had there been a daughter, she would have been in the kitchen helping Mom. Since there wasn’t, the boys were not only welcomed, but actually encouraged in the kitchen.” Memories of his mother’s home cooking pervade his own culinary practices and the counsel he now provides San Francisco Bay Area viewing and listening audiences. Narsai’s style is one of fundamental basics. The easier he can make a recipe, the more likely it will be successful and useful for the cooks in his audience.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Narsai first worked with Henry Rubin and Ed Brown at Berkeley’s Pot Luck Restaurant and then launched a gastronome’s delight, Narsai’s Restaurant, in the small East Bay community of Kensington. From 1970 until 1986, Narsai’s Restaurant, Market and Catering businesses were a culinary mecca for traveling gourmets. The hospitable redwood dining room (fashioned from a giant redwood tank) was the backdrop for some of the most attentive service and finest food ever served forth. The wine list at Narsai’s was described as “one of the ten finest in the world” by the New York Times. Centerpiece for the restaurant’s fame was its Monday Night Dinner Series at which Narsai offered a fixed menu from whatever cuisine happened to capture his attention and appeal to his senses at the moment.
From 1978 to 1985, Narsai’s Market (next door to the restaurant) presented a remarkable line of specialty foods. Narsai’s bakery was the first in Northern California to offer the French spined baguette called Epine as one of its regulars. Narsai’s many different specialty breads, including his famed croissants, were repeatedly selected as one of the finest anywhere. The Chocolate Decadence Torte®, Mudslide Cookies®, Avalanche Cookies®, and Snowstorm Cookies® were among the many creations first introduced at Narsai’s Market.
Narsai’s years as one of the Bay Area’s leading restaurateurs were overlaid with highly publicized caterings representing some of the grandest, large scale outdoor dining experiences anyone has ever known. Rock impresario Bill Graham called on Narsai regularly to cater his concerts as did the Napa Valley Wine Auction and San Francisco Symphony. In 1986, it became apparent that Narsai’s eclectic appetite for the full smorgasbord of food and wine adventures would run counter to his commitment to full time personal attention to his restaurant and catering businesses. He closed the landmark dining room, taking with him one of the country’s most extraordinary wine cellars, a line of specialty food products bearing his name, and a recipe collection that would eventually be published by Simon and Schuster in Monday Night At Narsai’s.
From 1977 to 1984, Narsai hosted the nationally syndicated PBS television series, “Over Easy.” From 1984 to 1995, he wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle Food Section titled “California Cuisine.” From 1987 to 1996, Narsai was Resident Chef at “Mornings on 2″ for KTVU in Oakland. Narsai was also co-host of “Cook Off America,” a PBS series highlighting regional cuisine from around the country.
As “Macy’s Culinary Expert” for ten years, he hosted cooking demonstrations every Saturday morning at the flagship store on Union Square in San Francisco.
Today, as KCBS Food and Wine Editor, Narsai broadcasts his secrets of gourmet cooking everyday. Narsai oversees the management and new-product development for his line of Specialty Food Products, and makes celebrity chef appearances at festivals throughout the world.
In keeping with his desire to give back to the community, Narsai has been actively involved in many projects. His services include: President of the Board, Assyrian Aid Society of America; founding member of the Board of Directors, 18-year Director and 15-year President, now Chairman of the Board of the Berkeley Community Fund; founding member of the Board of Directors, 18-year Director and 3-year President of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, now Chairman of the Board of the Berkeley Community Fund; Host, Alameda County Meals on Wheels Annual Dinner; and Host of the annual Narsai’s Taste of the Mediterranean, benefiting the Assyrian Aid Society of America.
Wherever he goes, Narsai’s objective remains the same: to share the simple pleasures of cooking, food and wine through education.
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