David Golovin, the chef and owner behind Dear Inga, the Mission District restaurant known for its Eastern European food, died on November 17 at the age of 41. The cause of death was colon cancer. His storied San Francisco hospitality career spanned restaurants including Rubicon, Spruce, Village Pub, Nopa, and La Folie before he opened Dear Inga in September 2019.
“I am honored to have partnered with David in opening Dear Inga,” wrote restaurant partner Jeff Hanak in a statement. “Due to the period of time we opened, it may not have had a long successful run, but it did allow for David to recognize a dream of restaurant ownership. I believe his freedoms created afterwards allowed for his creativity in the other many interests he held and rarely did others know his many talents. David’s passion for cooking was evident and real. His care and love to teach people and build their futures was just as important but rarely spoken about.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley with a dual major in English and Film, Golovin found himself in the kitchen of Rubicon, where he worked closely with chef Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions from 2005 to 2007. “I liked everything about it,” Golovin told Jewish News of Northern California of his move into cooking. “I loved being behind the scenes, the long, hard hours, the attention to detail, and the dedication to food.”
Brioza recalls Golovin’s penchant for reading, often walking into the kitchen of Rubicon with a giant book, and for being a soft-spoken but spirited cook that befriended others in the kitchen and supported his teammates. “He is one of those rare individuals that, when you have a conversation, he’s staring deep into your mind,” Brioza says. “That’s one of his great qualities, really listening, really observing, and really paying attention and interacting, and he cared a lot about good conversation.”
After moving on to the kitchens of Spruce, Village Pub, and La Folie, Golovin also became recognized for his sausages, which he made while working at Nopa and later supplied to the Divisidero spot for several years. Laurence Jossel, Nopa chef and owner, says Golovin was the best kind of food geek. They worked together more than a decade ago, and Golovin’s interest in sausage-making helped launch brunch service at Nopa. “He helped us with brunch a lot in the beginning,” Jossel says. “And I just watched him. He was a total food weirdo and I loved him for it.”
Golovin became a private chef for five years before opening Dear Inga in September 2019, which he called “a dream.” The restaurant was an homage to his grandmother and the cuisines of Hungary, Poland, and Russia, with Golovin’s German “oma” serving as inspiration for the restaurant. Dear Inga also featured local products, such as Andytown Coffee, something owner Lauren Crabbe says was a nice form of community connection. Golovin was described by friends as a dedicated student of the cooking craft, diving into all kinds of “old world cookery” — think bread, chocolate, and sour beer; vegetables that were fermented, pickled, and smoked; meats that were salted, cured, ground, and stuffed. That depth of cooking knowledge and curiosity showed in his food at Dear Inga, his former colleagues say, and informed the restaurant’s menu and feel.
Despite receiving rave reviews, Dear Inga closed in August 2020 after just 11 months, due to the pandemic’s impact on the business. “It’s a tragedy to lose anyone with that talent, with that understanding of quality and technique,” Jossel says. “He was a good guy, an underrated chef. The San Francisco culinary scene is worse for his loss.”