L. John Harris on Narsai Michael David: June 26, 1936 – June 20, 2024

Two illustrations from L. John Harris’s Foodoodles: From the Museum of Culinary History (El Leon Literary Arts, 2010)


When restaurateur, cookbook author, philanthropist, food journalist, and radio host Narsai David passed away on June 20, 2024, the East Bay lost a light that blazed over our local culinary scene for more than six decades.

A few days after Narsai’s passing, local author, artist, and raconteur L. John Harris shared some thoughts on Facebook about Narsai’s impact, including the link to a substantial interview he had done with Narsai at a Berkeley Historical Society Zoom event in 2021. Watching the video at Edible East Bay HQ last week, we were mesmerized by Narsai’s vivid recollections of experiences that date all the way back to the late 1950s when he cooked at (and later co-owned) Berkeley’s Pot Luck restaurant, which he described as the true spark of the vibrant East Bay food scene to come.

“I just looked at the zoom interview again and it’s painful to see him looking and talking so vibrantly, so recently,” says Harris. “I feel lucky to have caught him in his cogent and witty prime.”

On his Facebook posts, Harris emphasized that Narsai David’s food sensibilities and his eponymous restaurant in Kensington were “important components of the East Bay’s ‘gourmet’ food explosion of the 1970s.”

“After all, Narsai grew up ‘farm to table’ in Turlock, California, so he understood the Berkeley mantra—local, fresh, seasonal—from the ground up. His restaurant held the first commercial account at Peet’s Coffee,” Harris continued.

“Narsai’s restaurant joined Chez Panisse in the early 1970s as one of the two pioneers of ‘California cuisine,’ a term coined in a late 1970s Gourmet Magazine article by Carolyn Bates.”

“‘I had no idea what the term meant,’ Narsai told me in one of our interviews. He called Alice Waters to find out. ‘She didn’t know either,’ he quipped.”

L. John Harris’s new book about a mysterious painting he found discarded on a sidewalk in Paris—Portrait in Red: A Paris Obsessionwill be published this fall by Heyday Books. In process is Harris’s history of the Berkeley food revolution of the 1960s-80s, to be published by Heyday Books in 2026.