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Thursday, August 18, 2011

A16 Chef David Taylor Blazes His Own Trail of Carpaccio

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 4:05 PM

  • Photos by Alanna Hale

Eight months ago, executive chef Liza Shaw left the popular Marina restaurant A16. David Taylor, formerly chef de cuisine, has quietly slipped into her place, marking his first time as executive chef.

Most recently serving as sous chef at XYZ restaurant in the W Hotel for 4 1/2 years, Taylor also spent time at Poggio, One Market, and now-closed Vivande. Three years in Prague with his future wife rounded out his culinary training, and led him to meeting one his greatest influences. He tells SF Weekly a bit about A16's new menu and the dishes that were important to him to maintain.

What first attracted you to A16?

After leaving XYZ it was a little bit of a difficult time. I had a few options on the table, but when I went and checked out A16, I really liked the people, the style of food, and I was excited to work at a place that was so involved with the San Francisco restaurant community. But most of all, I really wanted to get back to cooking Italian food.

David Taylor leads the team in A16's open kitchen. Left to right: Colin Bado, Taylor, Chris Thompson, Miranda Eckerfield
  • David Taylor leads the team in A16's open kitchen. Left to right: Colin Bado, Taylor, Chris Thompson, Miranda Eckerfield

Where did your love of Italian food come from?

When I first came to came to California I took a class at Greystone with Lidia Bastianich and that was my first exposure to real Italian food. Right after college I started working with Carlo Middione at Vivande, went in some other directions for a few years after that, but upon returning to the States I got the chance to open up Poggio and work with Chris Fernandez. He really taught me how to simplify things and the importance of what you leave out of dishes.

Have you been to Italy?

We honeymooned there when I got married. It was only a two-hour flight from Prague and we went to Rome, drove south to Sorrento and through Galabria and around Sicily for a while. I just went to Italy a couple months ago in May. This time I spent most of my time in Naples and a little bit of time inland along the A16 with Nathan, our GM, and Victoria, one of our partners. We drove around, checked out some food and I did some stages (unpaid temporary apprenticeships).

Where did you stage?

I was staging at a restaurant called Umberto, which is a pizzeria and restaurant that's been owned by the same family for about 90 years now in the same location in Naples. I was there doing my pizzaiolo training, and when you take the certification course in Naples they set up a stage for you. I was attending seminars on pizza and going to school in the morning, meeting people and living the life. Now I'm a certified Neapolitan pizzaiolo.

Did you learn anything surprising?

I learned quite a bit. This class was very technical, a lot of hands-on methodology and specifics on how to manipulate the dough. We took some field trips. Going to a modern mozzarella factory was really interesting, but my favorite was going to a foundry in Naples where they make pizza ovens. We got to see pizza ovens in various stages of completion and learn all the differences between them. I really enjoyed meeting the people who make them by hand.

Did it make you want to come back and change the way pizza is made at A16?

It's funny you ask that, because the pizzas at A16 were set up by [founding chef] Christophe Hille, and Christophe spent more time in Naples learning how to make pizza than I did. Everything was already pretty true to form when I started. There are a few subtle changes that I've made, but nothing I would advertise as being drastic. The dough recipe is fundamentally sound. We're already using wood ovens. But you can change a few things like levitation time and still be true to the form of Neapolitan dough.

What were some of the challenges in stepping up to the role of executive chef?

The biggest challenge was building the right relationships with the right people. There aren't enough hours in the day. You can't cook every single thing yourself, so you have to be patient and train people the right way to do what needs to get done.

When I took over, the owners were very supportive of pushing the restaurant forward and not letting it get stagnant. It was a big change for a lot of people. Some stuck around for a while, some decided it was time to move on. They were all good people and I wish them the best, but the team that I have in there now is fantastic. Chris Thompson, one of my sous chefs, is doing phenomenal work with our salumi program. And Colin Bado, who was the pizzaiolo, has taken the reigns as our butcher. He butchers our whole pigs and whole lambs, and he and Chris work together on our cured meats.

Has the menu changed since you've taken over?

It's changed quite a bit, yeah. Obviously when you take over a restaurant that's been open for several years and been successful for several years, there are a few legacy items, like the tripe, the maccaronara, and the burrata. You don't touch those.

What did you keep the same?

Several of the pizzas I kept the same. I mean, I was never going to take pizza margherita off the menu. It doesn't say David Taylor over the front door. It says A16, and there's a lot of customers who've been coming here for years and expect to see dishes they've had several times. In fact, Christophe came and did a guest chef appearance with us about a month after I took over and he's a really talented chef and a really good person. His dishes should live on; they're really good dishes. I don't have such an inflated ego that I need to take a really good dish off the menu just because I didn't think of it first.

Terrina of rabbit and duck confitura with pickled stonefruit
  • Terrina of rabbit and duck confitura with pickled stonefruit

How have you made the menu your own?

Just some minor technical changes to things that we were doing in the past, like how stocks are made. I also think some of the presentations are a bit more refined, though not too much. And I've brought in more of my style. I'm pretty much always going to have some kind of a game bird on the menu. Right now it's a pasta dish: guinea hen with pea tendril sugo and ricotta gnocchi. We just started doing a beautiful terrine of rabbit and duck confit with pickled cherries. I've changed the way we do mostardas. They were done with mustard seeds in the past and now they're done with mustard seed oil, which makes it a bit spicier. I try to manipulate the fruit a little bit less. The pork chop with roasted peach mostarda has been really popular.

How has the response been?

The response has been positive. It seems like we're busier and busier every month. I haven't managed to drive them away yet! In fact, business is up significantly from this time last year.

Bacalao carpaccio
  • Bacalao carpaccio

What dish are you most proud of?

Right now one of my favorite dishes on the menu would be the bacalao carpaccio with roasted friarielli peppers and calabrian chiles. It's so good.

How much do you consult with Shelley Lindgren [A16's wine director/owner] or consider the wine list in your recipe development?

Not so much save for special occasions like Valentine's Day or anniversary dinners. There are 40 wines by the glass. When you have that many wines by the glass you really sort of have to, as a chef, let go a little bit and put your trust in the sommeliers and the staff. They're the ones who are going to make those pairings work. And they do. They do a fantastic job.

Do you have a favorite pizza in SF?

The truth is, I don't get out much. I really spend most of my time at A16, and I should get out more, but the truth is that I don't.

So where can we find you on the elusive night off?

I like being home with my family. When my wife and I do go out, we really like the salumi plate at Perbacco, and we also like to go to Poggio. It's like seeing family, I worked there for so long.

Bonus: Check back tomorrow for one of Taylor's recipes from A16.

Alanna Hale is a writer and photographer whose work can be found at This is her first post for SFoodie.

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