Jan Birnbaum, who opened EPIC Steak (then Roasthouse) in 2008, died early Tuesday morning according to representatives for the restaurant. He was 61.
“It is with great sadness and tremendous love and respect that I learned of the death of Chef Jan this morning,” Pete Sittnick, EPIC’s managing partner, said in a statement. “The EPIC family has lost one of our founders and leaders and the source of our inspiration and passion for the restaurant.”
“Everyone who works or has worked at EPIC over the last 10 years is a better person for knowing Chef Jan and the joy he brought to cooking and hospitality. We all send our love and prayers to his family and the multitudes of friends and colleagues that he touched with his life.”
Birnbaum’s culinary career began in New Orleans under chef Paul Prudhomme at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, where he began as a baker and left as lead cook. After working in New York and Denver, he arrived in San Francisco as head chef of the Campton Place Hotel, where he won acclaim. In 1994, Birnbaum moved north to open Catahoula, which operated in Calistoga for 9 years. He was the opening chef and a partner at EPIC, working with partner Pat Kuleto, until stepping down in 2013.
Recently, Birnbaum was quoted in a passage from the book Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll by Andrew Friedman. On the changing reception for chefs, he said,
One of the comparisons I make today that illustrates the difference between then and now is back in the day you never would put your uniform on or anything that made you look like a cook on the way to work... Because it wasn’t a proud thing to be. You’re that guy behind the door who has no skill. He’s certainly not intellectual, and he probably is either a criminal or he’s amongst them. There’s just a whole lot of undesirable stuff. Today the streets of San Francisco, man, they proudly walk down the street all the time in full uniforms.
Birnbaum is survived by his wife, Linda Giglio, and his brother, Jeff Birnbaum, and his loss is mourned by chefs and friends.