Chef Joey Altman at his new San Francisco restaurant, Hazie's. (Photo/Hardy Wilson)
Chef Joey Altman at his new San Francisco restaurant, Hazie's. (Photo/Hardy Wilson)

At Hazie’s, latkes are chef Joey Altman’s next culinary frontier

Origin stories for Jewish chefs don’t get much better than Joey Altman’s.

His first kitchen job was as a dishwasher at 13, and by the time he was 16, Altman was working as a line cook at the famed Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York, where Jews summered in the Catskill Mountains and enjoyed kosher food. The Concord’s dining room seated 3,000.

Now 59 and living in San Francisco, Altman can still recall working the egg station, and freezing up as the wait staff barked out such orders as “three over easy, one with lox; one lox, eggs and onions with onions on the side.”

After that initiation, some might never have returned to a kitchen again. For Altman, the opposite was true.

Altman’s wide-ranging culinary career includes positions at restaurants from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans with Emeril Lagasse to Stars in San Francisco  with Jeremiah Tower. He was the first executive chef at Miss Pearl’s Jam House in Oakland and he opened Ti Couz in San Francisco. And he hosted his own award-winning cooking show (Bay Café) and other shows on the Food Network.

But now he wants to be known for latkes (among other things).

Altman is executive chef at Hazie’s, which opened in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley in August with a menu influenced by a variety of cuisines, including Asian, Mediterranean, Californian and Mexican. But Altman’s celebration of Jewish food  — with his own twist — is unabashed. The dinner menu includes mezcal-cured salmon latkes, served with salmon roe and dill; more traditionally, on the brunch menu, Altman’s thick and crispy latkes are served with crème fraîche and homemade applesauce.

Chef Joey Altman says that all restaurants should be known for a speciality, and he hopes Hazie's will be known for its latkes. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Chef Joey Altman says that all restaurants should be known for a speciality, and he hopes Hazie’s will be known for its latkes. (Photo/Alix Wall)

So why latkes? “Because they’re fun to make, and pretty, and they just taste really good,” Altman said. “I think it’s important that restaurants have a thing that they’re known for, certain dishes that are part of the character of a restaurant,” he added. “It’s usually something that people won’t make at home very much, and while you can find them, they are few and far between.”

A pozole with dumplings made from a mixture of masa and matzah meal is on the dinner menu (but beware — it has pork). The brisket sandwich on the lunch menu comes with melted provolone and pepperoncini salsa, and Altman said he hopes eventually to make his own pastrami, too. Coming soon to the brunch menu is one of Altman’s favorite Jewish dishes of all time: matzah brei.

While Altman’s immediate family wasn’t religious, he grew up with his religious grandparents and great-grandparents nearby.

He recalled how his maternal great-grandmother, Esther, “had a small refrigerator, but somehow would pull out an eight-course meal for us without any notice” that would include chopped liver on matzah, brisket, pea soup and gefilte fish.

I’m not a kosher-keeping chef; I’m a Jewish person who loves all food and wants it all to be in the same sandbox.

Hazie’s mezcal-cured salmon and masa-matzah pozole derive from a Mexican-Jewish fusion restaurant concept called El Oy that Altman had planned to open in North Beach in the summer of 2020.

Instead, he took advantage of the break Covid gave him to get knee replacement surgery and go on a road trip with his daughter.

As for that pozole, Altman said he is really enjoying a return to his roots by experimenting with Jewish food, though he realizes some might take offense at his combining pork and matzah meal in the same dish.

“I wanted to celebrate the cultural and culinary prowess of Jews and not be beholden to the kosher laws. It’s more about the love of food and flavor,” he said. “I’m not a kosher-keeping chef; I’m a Jewish person who loves all food and wants it all to be in the same sandbox.”

Hazie’s small-plates concept spans the globe, encompassing dishes as diverse as kampachi crudo, lamb meatballs with tzatziki and harissa, and grilled broccoli with miso butter and crispy shallots.

Asked to describe the food concept at Hazie’s, Altman said simply, “It’s food I like to eat,” then adding, “It’s food that chefs like to make and people like to eat. It’s Joey food.”

Hazie’s is at 501 Hayes St., San Francisco.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."