Radio god Gene Burns passed away in San Francisco this weekend at age 72; his health had been declining in recent years due to a series of strokes. Many eaters faithfully tuned into the popular Dining Around with Gene Burns radio program on KGO on Saturdays to hear him interview chefs and food personalities from near and far -- his deep voice and interview style was a skillful blend of warmth, charm and authority. Yes, he liked food, wine and travel but made it all approachable and attainable--no airs on air for him. Here is Burns talking about pisco and Peru's independence day. Burns also covered news and politics on his nightly KGO radio program and his career included earlier work in the Baltimore, Boston, New York, Orlando and Philadelphia markets.
Burns arrived in San Francisco in the mid-1990s and his radio and charity work helped make him a local pillar in the food and wine scene. We first became personally acquainted with Burns in our cooking school days and found him to be a nice and smart man. How cute is it that he wasn't opposed to cooking and sharing a platter of eggs poached in bacon fat?
The holiday party he threw with the help of his friends Joel Riddell and Robert Moon was a coveted invite as much for the delicious food as the chance to see chefs and radio/culinary industry types relaxing and laughing. Riddell and Moon surprised Burns in 2005 with a cheftastic Cliff House birthday bash that included Gene Burns Kaffir lime vodka gimlets and quince-foie gras appetizers. Riddell is an award-winning radio host in his own right, and says of Burns: "He was my mentor -- and my dear, dear friend -- who I loved so very much. Robert and I are saddened by the loss of our close friend Gene Burns.
"He was a gentleman and a scholar. The outpouring of kind words about Gene, both publicly and privately give us great comfort. We will miss this great individual who has done so much for so many. Let us all raise a glass to our friend, Mr. Burns."
Joanne Weir says, "I was lucky enough to be both a guest and fill in for Gene as a host on his legendary radio show. I first met Gene in 1994 in Boston. I was invited on his show to talk about my very first cookbook, From Tapas to Meze. I was such a rookie and so nervous. I hardly slept the night before. However, when I heard his distinctive voice and he asked me the first question, I felt myself dissolve into the chair.
"Gene reminded me of my Dad. I remember telling him one time and he said, 'What nationality are you?' When I told him that my father was Lithuanian, he smiled that distinctive smile and said, 'So am I!'"
Chef Dennis Leary says: "Beyond his obvious talent for making his guests feel at ease, he manages to convey his genuine enthusiasm for the world of food and restaurants without sounding like a publicist or shill. His authenticity is always present."
Publicist Eleanor Bertino says: "Everyone I placed on his show loved the experience because he was well-informed, very intelligent, warm and hospitable. He treated people very well -- even publicists." We couldn't agree more.