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California Dish


MatthewB
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i was talking to someone who made the interesting point that if tower had stuck to the menu chapters about his education in cuisine and how it developed (which are really quite marvelous and, i'm quite sure, written by himself", it would have made a much stronger case for his position as a seminal figure than the book actually does.

Yeah, but I don't think it would have been nearly as satisfying for him. :wink: After all, hasn't a lot of the snarky stuff in the book come out in bits and pieces over the last few years since his return to the public eye?

Does anyone besides me have his latest cookbook Jeremiah Tower Cooks? It's up there with the Zuni Cafe and Chez Panisse books.

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Let's remember that Emeril's a celebrity too.

I mean, I certainly understand that the Saint Alice persona is tiresome -- I have to live in the same town and watch the yuppies line up at Cafe Fanny to spend $8 to eat a poached egg in a parking lot every day. But as long as we're forced to live in a bankrupt society in which meaning is constituted by personality, I'd rather have celebrities who "mean" quality ingredients, than people who are celebrities by virtue of shouting "BAM!".

Of course, I'd rather go out for a drink with Emeril. As long as he buys the Domaine Tempier.

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Russ, Tony, others either on the scene or who have read the book--for purposes of moving this thread forward a bit, would any of you care to list and assess all the "important innovations in "new" American cuisine" which has sprung from these two? That might help those of us who don't readily accept too many of those harmonious myths of American gastronomy.

W/R/T Stars, Tony, and your comment "Today, you can hardly pick up a menu without seeing its imprint"--is that a good or bad thing--that we're still seeing that imprint with little movement forward? That influence has been copied and emulated so much it has a kind of mailed-in quality to it--like eating some wax museum version of West Coast Americana, what was fresh and exciting, oh, say 25 years ago?

Russ, I think you started to going toward this when you wrote "I think Tower was enormously important, but was doing something other than what we recognize today as california cuisine. look at his menus and i think you'll see that he was doing something quite different, much more intellectual and much more experimental (not to say better or worse). i think what he contributed was an aesthetic appreciation for what was truly good, rather than what was merely good for you." Care to flesh that out with some more specifics--some "innovations" even?

Were any of you on the scene then--or have had discussions-- to talk about presentation and skills in the kitchen--essentially about techniques applied to these great ingredients, was there a difference in how "great shopping" was transformed in either's hands?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Of course, I'd rather go out for a drink with Emeril. As long as he buys the Domaine Tempier.

don't be too sure. alice's insistent persona gets to be a nag, but she can be a lot of fun. though, probably, not as much as jeremiah.

Oh, I'd let her buy me some Tempier any time too. I'd love to talk to her. It's just that as a Boston expat, I actually find Emeril's accent endearing. I know it's hard to imagine.

Sorry to sidetrack the thread. I too am interested in how today's "california cuisine" is related to Towers's (and others') food from the 70's. For me it really is all about the shopping.

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steve, mr/ms thing,

i agree that what we now call california cooking is mainly about shopping. where we might part company is that i don't think that's a bad thing. cuisine exists on many planes, from subsistence feeding, to home cooking, to regional, super-regional and then, finally, haute cuisine. i'd put california cuisine at the regional sometimes veering into super-regional category. at its center, it is about serving delicious food with a minimum of intervention. (a spin on the alice/shopping story--i once spent an interminable lunch with her with the scion of a VERY IMPORTANT french champagne house; he kept insisting that what she was doing wasn't cooking, but "arranging"). my personal theory is that this is so because we have such great ingredients that it doesn't take much effort to make them delicious. i also think, on a more serious level, that there is an aesthetic at work here, much the same as in the craftsman era, where the beauty of simplicity was the goal. And much the same as the craftsman era, i think a lot of the california cuisine aesthetic is a reaction to the "decadent" overelaboration of most of the culture.

Put most simply, i guess, if you're buying all of your ingredients from sysco, you really need to work hard to make them taste good. california cuisine is more about the blatant statement: "we're not buying from sysco." at this point, i need to emphasize that i'm idealizing the food. this is what it's like when it works. if i had to judge "california cuisine" by what i've eaten at less successful imitators, i'd be skeptical, too.

you can make the parallel between brasserie and three-star dining in france, if you like. i prefer that between italian regional cooking and alta cucina. but then i would, because i have yet to have an alta cucina meal that was totally satisfying--almost entirely the only bad meals i've eaten in italy have been at "progressive" restaurants.

it will be interesting to see where we wind up in 20 years, or even longer. i'm sure people will still be appreciating a simple plate of good, artisan-made bread and cheese. i'm not sure they'll feel the same way about foam (though i have to say, steve, that the foam i had on a dessert at zaytinya was one of the first where i understood its attraction; usually it makes me think i've really pissed off one of the line cooks).

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Yet another review of the book, from the NY Times.

Grimes' take on the gastrostreit is noticeably different that that of the LA Times and SF Chronicle reviewers:

For the most part, he's a gentleman about the dispute (his manners were shaped at an English public school), although he does drop, not once but twice, a feline remark about two-timing Ms. Waters with her own boyfriend. Considering the importance of Chez Panisse, and the temperaments involved, though, the war seems more like a lovers' quarrel.

???

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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it will be interesting to see where we wind up in 20 years, or even longer. i'm sure people will still be appreciating a simple plate of good, artisan-made bread and cheese. i'm not sure they'll feel the same way about foam

Geez, you mean using high quality, fresh, locally (or artisanally) produced ingredients (ie shopping) is more than a trend? I was hoping to move past that. (Insert appropriate emoticon.)

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OK, I'm actually going to apologize for my last post. Not only off topic, but very old (and never to be resolved) topic.

Perhaps more interesting is chez Panisse's and Tower's influence on the idea of the American menu. Surely the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook is advancing a concept other than shopping?

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it will be interesting to see where we wind up in 20 years, or even longer. i'm sure people will still be appreciating a simple plate of good, artisan-made bread and cheese. i'm not sure they'll feel the same way about foam

Geez, you mean using high quality, fresh, locally (or artisanally) produced ingredients (ie shopping) is more than a trend? I was hoping to move past that. (Insert appropriate emoticon.)

no apologies necessary. i once spent a week (in a fiat uno) in northern italy with a very prominent wine writer who argued the whole time that alice ought to be shot for taking credit for what good cooks in the rest of the world have done since time immemorial. he's got a point, but still, what is de riguer in one country can still be revolutionary in another.

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the thing that amazed me most about the book was how someone who seems to have it all--so good-looking, so talented, so charming, so intelligent, at various times so rich--was also so insecure that he turns out to have saved every press clipping that was every written about him. at one point, he quotes a press release from a hotel he's doing a guest gig at. how pathetic is that?

Russ, Grimes picked up you're comments as well. Hmm, maybe he read this thread before writing the review?

Edited by bloviatrix (log)

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Surely the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook is advancing a concept other than shopping?

Yes, but what is it, exactly? It smells nouvelle to me, with a whiff of provence of course. (I have not used the book extensively, so I may be off base).

But I think the Piedmontese winemaker got it exactly wrong. We needed someone to tell us how to shop. Someone who looked at our perfect produce and realized that the most important thing was not to fuck it up. And it is not really her fault if, as Saint Alice, she is credited with inventing the obvious. Because it was not obvious here in America before it got a name and a movement and a Saint. At least that's the usual story, and it has always made sense to me. If Tower deserves all the credit, that's fine, but it doesn't really matter -- because (this is where the winemaker is right of course), he's really claiming to have mastered the obvious.

Unless there was more to the food than shopping, in which case Steve's question is the relevant one:

Russ, I think you started to going toward this when you wrote "I think Tower was enormously important, but was doing something other than what we recognize today as california cuisine. look at his menus and i think you'll see that he was doing something quite different, much more intellectual and much more experimental (not to say better or worse). i think what he contributed was an aesthetic appreciation for what was truly good, rather than what was merely good for you." Care to flesh that out with some more specifics--some "innovations" even?
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"I wanted it to feel like the experience I'd had in France," Alice Waters explained of the vision she brought to Berkeley from her year abroad. "Of course, as we moved along, we realized that the ingredients were quite different from the ones that were used in France so it got harder and harder to put this French mold on the experience."

From an interview in June 2002, at the Powell's website:

http://www.powells.com/authors/waters.html

Malcolm Jolley

Gremolata.com

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As an aside: When I was first learning how to be a restaurant cook (in SF, six years ago) someone who had worked at Stars under Tower had this anecdote: Tower storms through the kitchen, irate at the incompetence of god knows who, muttering, "Sometimes I regret ever introducing roasted garlic to this country."

Well, you know what? He probably did introduce roasted garlic to this country. But, you don't gotta be a dick about it. Thats how I feel about Jeramiah Tower, and is California dish(es).

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  • 1 year later...

I picked this up at the library and read it over the weekend. Interesting revisionist history, from a very bitter, nasty man. His surprise at all the lawsuits was the funniest part of the book.

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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  • 3 years later...
Putting down that sweet Alice Waters like that, man ought to be ashamed of himself.  I ain't even heard of that fella.

why? after all emeril is by all accounts one of the nicest guys in the business, and bourdain had no problems taking potshots at emeril. seems like there's a certain double standard. for some easy targets like emeril or sandra lee, let it rip. yet, st. alice should be pure as the driven snow.

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