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Daniel Patterson on CA cuisine


JAZ
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I think the clue as to why the “California” style dominates is in the article but I didn’t quite put the pieces together until now. It’s the absence of an alternative that’s expressed as coherently as the model causing so much frustration. If that’s going to change – and, hey, bring it on – chefs will have to articulate their alternative vision and philosophy, and how it’s expressed through what they put on the plates. Although Thomas Keller’s and Alice Waters’ styles are about as divergent as you get, their approaches have a common quality of clarity. For that matter, so was Roxanne Klein’s in regard to raw food, which was assuredly innovative. I would be keen on hearing Patterson clarify and expand on his vision. If he, or other chefs, can’t do that, then I don’t see how Bay Area food culture can be expected to evolve.

Hey, I got no beef with foam (Homer Simpson: “Beef foam….aaaaagh). As such. But I expect it to appear on the Olive Garden menu any day now. Oh, wait, it does! Don’t they use Redi-Whip? :laugh:

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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I think you miss my point.  I agree with Chef Patterson that the Chez Panisse style cooking is very common in the bay area, but I don't find that to be a bad thing, he apparently does.  California grows more rice than most rice producing countries nevermind the other states.  I think the place to draw the line on the local vs shipped in debate is around things that travel well and things that don't.  I wouldn't ship a ripe tomato to florida nor would I ship a fresh loaf of bread, but why not ship dry goods or sturdy meats?  Niman is far from my favorite purveyor of meats, and their animals are raised all over the place, but they are a fair example of a producer that gets (got) a lot of menu placement.  Salmon outside the pacific states is a tough example, sure you could pay for it to be shipped overnight or eat farm raised salmon, one is expensive the other an inferior tasting product - its your call. 

So Robyn, that dish you had as your main at Chez Panisse, could you make it at home given a few containers of leftover meat?

edit: holy crap is this post incoherent.

Not incoherent at all. I agree with you 100% about shipping. I won't eat a stone crab north of Palm Beach - but I'll eat cheese shipped from France (only thing that suffers from shipping the latter is the Fedex truck - which winds up reeking of cheese). As for salmon - the fish we get here - both the farmed from south America and the wild from the Pacific northwest - travel fine - and cook up fine. Perhaps they aren't as good as the ones you caught this morning - but they're far from bad. Of course - when you deal with shipping - a lot depends on what's shipped - who's shipping it - and who's selling it. I find that the larger purveyors here (Costco, Publix, etc.) generally do a better job with fresh things than the smaller boutique type places (which have much less turnover).

In thinking about this thread - San Francisco is a very tourist oriented city. And since I'm a tourist when I go to places like San Francisco - when I'm dining I want to get the best of what the city has to offer - what's served there that it would be hard to find elsewhere. And I guess for me - that meant food in the "Chez Panisse" vein. Relatively simple cuisine with an emphasis on local agricultural abundance. Perhaps there are lots of other visitors who think the way I do - and that explains the "tilt" in terms of which restaurants succeed - and which don't.

Of course - I have my likes/dislikes and prejudices. As I get older - I find it more difficult to tolerate large amounts of very rich food. And I never could tolerate novelty for the sake of novelty. My husband - being older than I am - is worse than I am when it comes to these things. He was somewhat indisposed after dining at La Folie (too much too rich food) - and when I start to describe places like the Fat Duck in the UK - well let's just say that he's not keen on places where nitrogen canisters and the like are an essential part of the dining experience.

Regarding rice - sure California grows a lot of rice. I just think it's silly to grow rice in the desert (guess I'm more in tune with the urban water activists than the agrarian water activists - who survive because their water is heavily subsidized). Makes sense to grow a lot of things in California. Rice isn't one of them. (And so you won't think I'm picking just on California - it doesn't make sense to grow sugar in Florida either - only reason it's done is because of price supports).

As for making the dish at Chez Panisse - sure I could make the dish if you gave me the Chez Panisse leftovers from which it was made - and told me how to season them :smile: . That's like saying I could make a great sauce if someone gave me a quart of veal stock from Alain Ducasse (instead of the miserable stuff they sell at places like Williams Sonoma). I'm a decent home cook - but "a man's got to know his limitations" - and I do. Which is why I don't make "mystery meat" leftover patties or veal stock based sauces. However I'll pit my fresh homemade pesto (made from the basil in my backyard and high quality cheese - pine nuts - and olive oil) against anyone's! Robyn

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As I get older - I find it more difficult to tolerate large amounts of very rich food.  And I never could tolerate novelty for the sake of novelty.  My husband - being older than I am - is worse than I am when it comes to these things.  He was somewhat indisposed after dining at La Folie (too much too rich food)

Regarding rice - sure California grows a lot of rice.  I just think it's silly to grow rice in the desert (guess I'm more in tune with the urban water activists than the agrarian water activists - who survive because their water is heavily subsidized).  Makes sense to grow a lot of things in California.  Rice isn't one of them. Robyn

Right on, about growing rice in the CA desert. When I worked for Cal PIRG briefly in the 90s, I learned agribusinesses had 100-year water leases that assured them water at something like $3/sq foot of water, versus the $80-90 small farmers had to pay. While ordinary folks were being admonished for making the drought worse, with all of our selfish flushing.

Robyn, I want you to know that, because dining at La Folie is not as enjoyable for you as it might be, I am going to pick up the burden of doing so. Tonight. For my friend's birthday. That will be a special menu and wine pairings created for us.

That's just the kind of person I am.

And I'm betting there'll be a foam of some sort involved.

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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... chefs will have to articulate their alternative vision and philosophy, and how it’s expressed through what they put on the plates.  Although Thomas Keller’s and Alice Waters’ styles are about as divergent as you get, their approaches have a common quality of clarity.  For that matter, so was Roxanne Klein’s in regard to raw food, which was assuredly innovative.  I would be keen on hearing Patterson clarify and expand on his vision.  If he, or other chefs, can’t do that, then I don’t see how Bay Area food culture can be expected to evolve.

Precisely. We await with much interest Patterson's expression of new cuisine as he invisions it and creates the menu of his next venue. No?

eGullet member #80.

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... chefs will have to articulate their alternative vision and philosophy, and how it’s expressed through what they put on the plates.  Although Thomas Keller’s and Alice Waters’ styles are about as divergent as you get, their approaches have a common quality of clarity.  For that matter, so was Roxanne Klein’s in regard to raw food, which was assuredly innovative.  I would be keen on hearing Patterson clarify and expand on his vision.  If he, or other chefs, can’t do that, then I don’t see how Bay Area food culture can be expected to evolve.

Precisely. We await with much interest Patterson's expression of new cuisine as he invisions it and creates the menu of his next venue. No?

I third that sentiment.

IMO, the most profound statement was this

“is foam the fifth horseman? because then we're all in trouble. think sabayon or zabaglione - those were new at one point as well, as was beurre blanc, hollandaise, etc. in foam's case, it fits the modern style of intense flavors combined with lightness of texture and less fat. it might be worth thinking about why it triggers such a vehement reaction, not just for you, but for many people - does the fact that it is not part of cp's repetoire mean that it shouldn't be anywhere? there are those who use new techniques like that in a way that fits nicely with their overall vision of food, and is not an artifical appendage.”

After trying a good version of foam, I no longer have a fear and loathing of foam. It wasn’t a gimmick and it tasted good.

I detest intellectualizing food, which is not to say that I reject being educated about food. I found Patterson’s explanation about the reason for foam fitting with modern life styles to make a lot of sense.

And perhaps that is where Chez Panisse excels. Alice Waters didn’t just put a perfect tomato on the plate. She had the respect for us as customers to educate us as to why that tomato was so delicious.

She continues that education to the next generation in her edible classroom. I don’t know if any of you have been to the Mandela Farmers market, under the Bart station in a seedy neighborhood in Oakland. Children are selling organic produce that they grew personally in the backyards of the inner city.

If you read anything about Ferran Adrià, on a more limited scale, he does the same. He explains how to understand his food. He makes us share his passion. I would have no reservation about eating anything he cooked, but I am reluctant to try any copy cat who may be trying new techniques for the sake of innovation. Thus the initial rejection of foam.

Patterson did not write an article as he said to simply advocate diversity. He concluded the reason for that lack of diversity, as he said in the second paragraph of that article. "You mean the tyranny of Chez Panisse?"

It does not lend credibility to say that he like Waters and would eat at Chez Panisse every week, if possible, to take enjoy the “comfortable home cooking with no particular point of view”

Even in the paragraph at the top of this post, he opines that rejection of foam is because it isn’t served at Chez Panisse.

No. I did not reject foam on that basis. That never occurred to me. I rejected it initially because too often we are duped by food critics who eat out often and not on their own dime. I eat out often too, however on my dime. I know what it is to get bored with the same cuisine no matter how wonderfully it is prepared.

So we go to those restaurants with glowing reviews about the creative chef or cuisine of the moment. Too often the food is a gimmick, overpriced and tasteless. Even worse, at times, it tastes bad. That is what it is all about .. taste. Food is not art. It is nice when creativity and taste meld, but the reason we eat is for the flavor.

If sabayon, zabaglione, beurre blanc, hollandaise, etc. didn’t taste good, we would not be eating them today.

Perhaps having grown up during the early feminist movement, I am too sensitive to this. But why are Chez Panisse, Zuni, Jardinière, Boulevard, all restaurants headed by women, labeled homey and without direction? Yet Thomas Keller, David Kinch, and Laurent Gras are lauded for their innovation. Even though it was the NY Times writing the headline, perhaps “To the moon, Alice” was too appropriate.

Perhaps mine is not civilized and intelligent discourse. IMO, well-moderated online forums have given a different voice to people who never before had the chance to express themselves in person. In the past our only option was to vote with our pocketbooks. We no longer have to sit silently, listening to the experts tell us what we should be enjoying. We can speak up and say that the Emperor has no clothes. That doesn’t make some people happy.

Yet I am not someone who wants dumbed down populist food either. I totally agree with the statement I read that said

“I'm a strong believer in places doing what they do best and not trying to broaden to please clientele.....thereby hopefully attracting a savvy clientele that appreciates what they do best (and which will keep them honest).”

So I am always open to be educated about why something should be appreciated … why we should like that perfect tomato or foam. Help us become that savy clientele and creativity and diversity will flourish.

I would have appreciated an article with suggestions of how we could have more creative cuisine “in addition to” the wonderful food that is currently available in the Bay Area. Let’s hear some ideas for attracting the more creative chefs to this area instead of looking for blame for their absence.

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Thank you to Daniel Patterson for clarifying his position. I too agree that it was a very well-written piece. I've complained a number of times to my husband that I wished I didn't have to travel to Chicago to eat at a place like Alinea.

However, though I think it's easy to blame restaurants for the lack of diversity in the Bay Area, we can't discount the customers. The "innovative" restaurants--such as Antidote in Sausalito--have traditionally done rather poorly. The success of both TFL and Manresa does show that customers are willing to branch out a bit, but still within certain confines of taste. TFL and Manresa both create dishes that *look* different but I wouldn't say they either one challenges the customer's taste buds. What would it take for a more innovative restaurant to succeed?

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As I get older - I find it more difficult to tolerate large amounts of very rich food.  And I never could tolerate novelty for the sake of novelty.  My husband - being older than I am - is worse than I am when it comes to these things.  He was somewhat indisposed after dining at La Folie (too much too rich food)

Regarding rice - sure California grows a lot of rice.  I just think it's silly to grow rice in the desert (guess I'm more in tune with the urban water activists than the agrarian water activists - who survive because their water is heavily subsidized).  Makes sense to grow a lot of things in California.  Rice isn't one of them. Robyn

Right on, about growing rice in the CA desert. When I worked for Cal PIRG briefly in the 90s, I learned agribusinesses had 100-year water leases that assured them water at something like $3/sq foot of water, versus the $80-90 small farmers had to pay. While ordinary folks were being admonished for making the drought worse, with all of our selfish flushing.

Robyn, I want you to know that, because dining at La Folie is not as enjoyable for you as it might be, I am going to pick up the burden of doing so. Tonight. For my friend's birthday. That will be a special menu and wine pairings created for us.

That's just the kind of person I am.

And I'm betting there'll be a foam of some sort involved.

Let us know how the meal was.

One additional comment about creativity. Why is it frequently presumed that creativity has to involve things like foam - pacojets - liquid nitrogen - or sous vide (note that I'm necessarily down on all of those things - they just seem to be hallmarks of "creative" restaurants)? What about food that is simply out of the ordinary? When we ate at Per Se - we had a pork dish with an unfamiliar (but delicious) cooked fruit which married so well with the pork. I asked what it was. It was a pluot. Something I buy in the supermarket but never used in that way. Never saw one on a menu before then - or since. And Chez Panisse was the first place I ever ate a dish that had quince in it. I can buy my own Niman Ranch or Jamison stuff on the internet these days. Those names on a menu don't impress me (if for no other reason than everyone seems to have them). But when a chef teaches me how to use a pluot - well that's something. Robyn

Edited by robyn (log)
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I was trying to avoid saying anything on this thread, but the wine has taken effect... I have to admit, I really don't get the point of the article. I came of age food-wise in San Francisco in the late '60's and early '70's. The more I travel and as the years pass, the more I think it's a great restaurant city. It always has been. The history is deep. The diversity is great. It goes back to the Gold Rush days. I have to confess I love Chez Panisse more now than ever. When I travel to Italy and find the little place that has fresh food simply presented, it is a joy, and I usually think back to my first meals at Chez Panisse. I also appreciate the good and great restaurants of Paris and the rest of France, but they are very different. San francisco may not have Taillevent or Le Bristol, but there are some pretty good places.

The idea that somehow Alice Waters has stifled creativity in the cuisine of the Bay Area is hard for me to take seriously. What innovation is lacking? It's true there aren't any place that have total darkness while you eat and they might be a little light on the foams. However, they did ruin the lobby of the St. Francis for "innovation". It's hard to deny that the Bay Area is one of the best places on earth to eat. Perhaps Mr. Patterson should venture to the San Diego area, or even to Los Angeles.

In San Francisco, you have places like La Folie, Danko, Fleur d'Ly (sorry doubters, it is a really good), and Acquerello (where else do you get a romantic jewel-box with terrific food and an incredible wine list that comes with someone who knows it so well). Most U.S. cities would take any of them and be happy. (As an aside, Does anyone remember The Blue Fox, La Bourgogne, Ernie's or Le Trianon?) At the same time, you have a long history of places like Osteria del Forno, Clementine, Piperade, and The Slanted Door. There are really good Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Japanese, and Asian fusion places. There are the Tadich's, the Swan's, and the (Jeanty at) Jack's. Is the argument that it's a negative to cook with the best products? Sorry, I just don't get it.

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I moved to the Bay Area 8 years ago because it is such a great place to live and cook. I have yet to be bored by the incredible bounty of fresh foods, the long list of great and diverse restaurants, or the devoted diners who will drive an hour or two for a good meal. I now get requests for sauce on the side about 3 times a year instead of 3 times an hour. Diners here try things they've never had before, just to find out.

I enjoy Chez Panisse, Zuni and Oliveto as three very good and very different restaurants. I regularly crave food from the Slanted Door that you don't find anywhere else. Fleur de Lys, La Folie and Gary Danko would be grouped in the top Toques in any town. Sure, LA and New York have better sushi and I really miss that, but the Bay Area is pretty close to food nirvana.

To blame Alice Waters for this "hegemony" is just absurd. Eating well in the Bay Area has grown way beyond Chez Panisse. There are only a few places on the planet where you can eat as well or better. The quality of Bay Area food culture is beyond dispute, it's almost harder to find bad bread than good! Chefs here continue to inspire the rest of the country and have been key players in the huge improvement of food nationwide over the last 25 years.

The Bay Area has had it's share of "innovative" restaurants, but lets be realistic, for the most part that business model is pretty lame and they tend to die young in any town. For restaurants to thrive, they need consistent repeat business. How many times a year are you going to go to a fine dining "raw food" restaurant. I've eaten my share of "innovative" meals and have enjoyed many of them, nitrogen and all. Dry ice bubbling in your gazpacho is only interesting one time. Most foams are just silly. Ultimately, I would eat at Guy Savoy 20 times for every time I'd want to return to Marc Veyrat. Much of this modern food is like bad "experimental" art. I'd much rather have sauce right on the plate than served in a test tube rack or a syringe. I look for a great meal to be full of interesting, new, well executed dishes, but I don't need to contemplate the chefs "vision" two bites at a time, nor do I need to have my taste buds "challenged".

For me innovation is about discovering and serving new things that nature provides, and finding the best of them, but not improving on them. It's also about embracing new techniques such as sous vide, but I work in a kitchen, not a mad scientists lab. I hope I've grown older and wiser over nearly 35 years of cooking. Some of my "innovative" dishes from the 70's make me cringe now. I'm content to let the seasons dictate what I have to work with. I don't need tomatoes in January, there are plenty of other things to do. It's exciting to realize there's still so much more to discover in the world of food. I strive to offer my customers interesting, delicious, difficult to find foods that they would not cook at home. There's no better place to do that than the Bay Area. Alice Waters is in part responsible for that, and I thank her.

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for some reason i keep hearing something victor hazan told me many years ago. i've quoted it before, so you can just stop here if you've heard it already: we were talking about the difference between young american chefs and Italian and he said: "the americans are cooking to surprise, the italians cook to reassure." the problem is that once you've surprised somebody with a dish, you can't do it again, so you have to keep inventing new dishes. that is why in italy people associate certain dishes with certain restaurants-- "oh, today i really would love to have XXXX at XXXXX". there are restaurants that have been very successful for decades based on the popularity of a few dishes, while it's rare for a "creative" american restaurant to last more than 5 years. (zuni, cp and tfl being obvious exceptions)

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I felt like what Patterson was actually writing about was the problem of professionals becoming bored with their work. What I consider innovative might well be passe to the person in the kitchen. As far as I recall, he didn't quote anyone in the article who wasn't a professional.

What we've got around here are chefs who can jolt us into thinking, "THIS is what X tastes like!" That's what CP excels at -- I remember the pumpkin risotto with quince and the bay scallops with pancetta and Meyer lemon vinaigrette from 7 years ago because they shocked me. Not with their preparation, plating, or choice of ingredient, though all of those were done with precision. It was because they provoked a realization that THAT was what a bay scallop tasted like, etc. About a month ago, I was there for a menu called A Celebration of Provence. Pissalidiere, vegetable soup with pistou and garlicky lamb aren't the newest things on the planet. I don't know if the kitchen staff was bored with caramelizing leeks and grilling lamb. I wasn't bored or dissatisfied. There was a salad that came with the pissaladiere; I'm still craving the hard-boiled egg with ailioi (sp) that arrived with it. Don't know why. It just tasted more like itself, and it was wonderful. The intensity of the flavor was very much a surprise but it was familiar at the same time.

I was glad to see so many people love the same restaurants I do -- Clementine being one notable example. The other two I always have great meals at are Chow and Park Chow. I was reluctant to mention them before because the focus was so much on high-end places. But I don't care -- that they turn out such high quality food in a casual environment just makes it less expensive and more people can enjoy it.

Still working on the La Folie meal we enjoyed -- it was 6 courses w/ wine pairings and we're trying to remember!

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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  • 1 month later...

im not sure how tangential this is but imho

generally a second generation growth requires technique

even if there is already ingredient and philosophy

i think that is why the next generation of chefs in the bay area will be more in the style of thomas keller than alice waters

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  • 4 months later...
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