Ok. Yes, I do know how to cook, but that isn’t what I meant. I need to learn to cook well. Like, restaurant well. Given my propensity for wanting to eat restaurant quality food on a regular basis, I need to learn to cook fast lest my bank account decide to find a more doting benefactor (“Always take, take, take. Why don’t you GIVE!!”).
For so many these days its all about the limelight. Its about getting paid, getting respect, and being superstars. Easily forgotten is the idea that the culinary industry is first and foremost a service industry; an outpouring of familial hospitality extended to strangers, with food as the focal point.
Many who make the choice to do this, day in and day out, do so out of the respect they have for the food, and a desire to carry on what others who influenced them had done before. Having the opportunity to speak with Chef Marc Orfaly of The Beehive in Boston was a reminder that there are people who cook for the right reasons.
During our conversation we talked about some of Marc’s early experiences in the food industry, his suggestion to those interested in getting in to the culinary industry, and his personal food memory.
With my wife, and a couple of other friends in tow, we made our way over to Rosa Mexicano on a brisk Sunday morning. Mind you, ‘brisk’ in mid-Februrary, especially by the water, equals 30 to 40 MPH wind gusts, but the various dishes we tried did an excellent job of warming us back up!
We started our brunch off with a glass of passionfruit aqua fresca, which lived up to its name and really was quite refreshing. The beverage winner for me, though, was the Chilled Horchata de Coco, a beverage made from coconut infused rice milk and cinnamon. The grown-up version, the Horchata Especial, was phenomenal with the addition of añejo tequila, coffee liquor, and espresso.
We had the opportunity to try four dishes from the Desayuno menu: Torrejas de Miel Rellenas, a stuffed french toast consisting of cinnamon-cascabel chile-crusted brioche filled with a mascarpone cheese, and caramelized plantains; Nopales con Huevo, a soft egg scramble with cactus paddle; Machacado con Huevo, a scrambled egg dish with dried shredded beef, jalapeños, tomato, and onion; and Mexico City Chilaquiles, a traditional dish served with a seared, house-glazed ham, scrambled eggs, and a smoky chile sauce. Everything was delicious, but the stand out to me (and my fellow diners) was the Mexico City Chilaquiles. Known as a pick-me-up, the dish brought a warming smokiness in the form of a creamy chile sauce. This dish alone would be sufficient enough reason to make a return trip to Rosa Mexicano! The other highlight was the stuffed french toast, declared by one of my table mates as possibly being “the best french toast I ever had”.
During our meal, we spoke about how difficult it can be for restaurants that want to be authentic, and be true to the flavors they’re representing as part of their identity. That’s something the team at Rosa Mexicano are clearly aiming to do with their “Flavors of Mexico” series, having sent a team of chefs to various parts of Mexico to find the necessary inspiration. In my opinion, they did not disappoint. Having made a recent visit to Mexico, and dining at a few local spots in the area, I feel that Rosa Mexicano hit the mark, producing authentic Mexican. I wouldn’t hesitate to head back to Rosa Mexicano to have another go at their Desayuna menu.
You can see the Rosa Mexicano Desayuno menu on their website, along with a full list of the “Flavors of Mexico” series events. As a point of full disclosure, the dishes served from the Desayuno menu were complimentary, but all opinions expressed herein are my own, and I stand by them. A special thanks to Carolyn Marrans, and Chef Perez!
Despite being only about 4 hours from New York City, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ventured over to the Big Apple, a situation I plan to rectify over the coming years. During our last visit, we relied on a couple of friends to guide us along the way. It was a delicious day, which concluded with a visit to Casa Mono, part of the fleet of restaurants from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Just a smattering of the deliciousness can be viewed here, here, and also here.
What caught me by surprise was the simplicity of the dishes. Nothing was overdone, each element on the plate contributing to the balance of well composed plates of food. One of the behind the scenes minds responsible for these dishes, and I mean “behind the scenes” quite figuratively as Casa Mono has a very open kitchen, is chef de cuisine Anthony Sasso. I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony, and we touched on how he got his start, some of his culinary travels, and his favorite food memory.
Foodie Journal: Can you tell me a little bit about when you discovered you had a love for food, and then in turn decided that you wanted to make a career out of cooking? Anthony Sasso: I think I’m in a different boat than a lot of people. I guess when they answer that question it’s always like, “Oh, growing up I had so much food around, so much great food. My mom’s a great cook.” I kind of had it the other way where my parents aren’t great cooks, so we fended for ourselves a lot. We’d always try out things after getting home from school. I was forced to learn a lot on my own, and I’ve kind of carried that through my whole career. I did go to culinary school, and got all the basic and technical training, but I think I did take a lot on myself by just study something, reading about it, tasting around and then just try to do it on my own. Do it my own way or something. It’s translated into a lot of the dishes at Casa Mono, where they’re fun, and they have the sense of humor of someone that maybe doesn’t take things so seriously. It’s just a fun way of doing things, like you would if you were just hanging with your friends in the kitchen and getting things done that way. I can’t give thanks to my mother, grandmother, or father. They just did not put amazing food on the table each night. FJ: I’ve actually talked to a couple of chefs now who have the same reaction! AS: Good to know! We grew up where it was convenience is how you ate. Whether you went out to eat or did take-out or whatever, but yes, I don’t have this huge glossary of great dishes that I now serve because it’s something I grew up on. It’s kind of funny where we end up.
FJ: You ended up going to culinary school. Where did you attend? AS: I went to ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) here in New York City. Mostly because it worked with the schedule that I had then. I graduated from college in the Bronx, got a job that I wasn’t too happy with doing every single day. As soon as I could, and as soon as I found a school that catered to my schedule and needs, I just signed up for it right away. The great thing about culinary school is that you don’t really have to apply. You just sign up, and if you can come up with the funds or the loans, you’re in. I went on the weekends for six months. It was one of the best kitchen experiences ever because they’re just throwing ingredients at you, and you either love it or you’re not into it. I knew right away that when we spent four hours sipping different olive oils, vinegars and spices, and it kind of just opened our eyes to a lot of stuff. I knew that school, from that point on, was going to get better every single day. It was a lot of fun.
FJ: From there, what was your first real exposure to working in restaurants? AS: I kind of grew up working in restaurants, but I would say my first real exposure to good food was moving here. Towards the end of school they tell you to do as much as you can to get into any kitchen, no matter what the capacity. I just went to all the places, and chefs that were being recognized at that time. My first job was with Rocco DiSpirito but I got a lot of time in the kitchens of Bobby Flay, Wylie Dufresne and Mario Batali. The first place that actually put me on schedule was Union Pacific for Rocco DiSpirito, and that was a great time to be in that kitchen. He had the same outlook as I do now where you’re using a lot of ingredients, and a lot of different cuisines, but building a personality for yourself with flavor. Trying to put an element of surprise in every single dish. Working a dish to the point where you know everything looks appealing and appetizing on the menu. It was just a fun, time and I really enjoyed being part of that camaraderie during that time.
FJ: Having worked with Rocco, Bobby, Wylie, and now with Mario, do you think its helpful for young chefs who really want to be successful to try to learn from those that are at the top of their game? AS: Doesn’t hurt! It’s kind of like you seek out the restaurants that are doing something special, or the chefs that are doing something new and inventive. If nothing else, they’re at least pushing themselves every single day. It’s not static, and they push their cooks. Everyone around you has the same philosophy. Thinking about what Casa Mono is now, it’s kind of fun. Ten years ago there weren’t a lot of open kitchens, there weren’t a lot of sushi counters, or small plate restaurants. There weren’t a lot of places that were playing with tripe, sweetbreads, calves brains, or veal tongue. So you pick up a lot from the chefs that are confident enough to at least try working with with the harder ingredients. I like to think I learned to be like that just from the time spent with the chefs that I worked for.
FJ: You recently did a trip to Portugal and Spain. Can you talk about some of the differences that you see at the moment between European style cooking and what people typically see as American style cooking? SA: Europe’s built this huge basis on cooking where they not only don’t waste anything, but they’re truly enthusiastic to eat food. I think here people are excited to go out to a restaurant for many other reasons besides what’s on the menu and what’s on the plate. It’s different in Europe. Like, in Spain, and I noticed it in Portugal too, half their dishes have blood sausage, or these really foreign ingredients that are a challenge to any chef. Over there, every diner wants to eat something like that. I hadn’t been to Europe in a while, so this last trip just reaffirmed that whole fact that maybe Europeans might have chicken livers in their refrigerators because they actually eat that stuff, whereas here in America, you can only get that at a restaurant. In Europe, I think it’s built into their DNA a lot more. There’s always fresh bread, there’s always at least a half full bottle of wine. There’s always something good in the refrigerator to play with, and it just makes the job a lot easier for chefs. Here at Casa Mono, we try to get people to focus, even for just a couple of hours, just on the food they’re enjoying, and little else. We try to captivate diners here, and try to get them to trust us, our food, and just go for it!
FJ: Pretty much everybody I talk to that loves food, has a favorite food memory; do you have one you wouldn’t mind sharing? SA: I remember one day I walked in to Bar Jamon, which is our wine bar right next door, and the first thing I saw on the menu was pan con tomate, which is as simple as it sounds. Just toasted bread, garlic, tomato, olive oil. I used to have that all the time! I remembered having it every single day, every single meal, at home, on the beach, or at a restaurant. That became the base for sandwiches. There was never a normal piece of bread again after that. To see that on a New York City menu, something so simple, so basic. It surprised me! If you weren’t Catalan, it’s most likely you never had this, unless you had bruschetta at an Italian restaurant, which is not even comparable to it. I think that’s what put me on to the idea that quality ingredients can make anything good. It just says so much about Spain. It wasn’t about technique, or anything like that. It was just simplicity, something good, and something simple, and anyone who’s a dummy can make it at home or wherever. I think that might be probably the closest thing to a food memory for me. It just clicked.
Casa Mono is located at 52 Irving Place in New York City. You can call 212.253.2773 for reservations, though I’d recommend getting there a little earlier so you can enjoy a glass of wine at Bar Jamon!
Update to the updated update: The Blizzard Bash has unfortunately been cancelled due to the continued difficulties stemming from the Blizzard of 2013. Considering the lack of public transportation and, lest we forget, the 2 feet of snow covering walkways and side walks, it seems the best decision. Disappointing, no doubt, but worth noting is that the Barbara Lynch Foundation won’t just be sitting back. In an email to ticket holders, Jeff Macklin, President of the Foundation stated, “It [is] our absolute intention to honor all Blizzard Bash tickets – both VIP and General Admission – at a culinary event this spring.” It will, no doubt, be more fierce than the Blizzard Bash will have been! :) Stay tuned for info about the spring event.
Chef Barbara Lynch is Boston through and through. A bit of an edge, but a big heart underneath, her contributions to the city of Boston have been extensive, far beyond the economical impact a restaurant would have on a city. Just this past year she founded the Barbara Lynch Foundation, all with the hopes of helping the youth, families, and communities of Boston have a brighter future through food education. So, what better way to raise money for a young foundation than to throw a kick ass party?
That’s exactly what’s going down on February 7th, and 8th; The First Annual Blizzard Bash! I had the chance to touch base with Chef Lynch. We talked a little about how she got her start in the industry, food memories, and what people can expect at the Blizzard Bash.
Foodie Journal: Is there a moment where you really figured that you wanted a career in cooking? Was it something you always enjoyed? Barbara Lynch: I really didn’t enjoy it in the beginning, mostly because I didn’t really know how to cook. For whatever reason I talked myself in to saying that, for my career, I wanted to be a chef, if that makes sense. So at age 12 or 13, I’d started talking myself in to the idea of being a chef. I didn’t really know what that would entail until I started cooking. I always thought that if I had a job in the food industry, as a chef, that I’d always have a job. Basically, that was the bottom line for me at the moment. But, as I started cooking, and being in charge of the dishes I was putting out, I noticed people liked it. That’s when I thought, “Oh my god. This is meant to be.”
FJ: What was it like when you were first starting out? Did you just learn by doing, or did the mentoring from the chefs and cooks you worked with help you along the way? BL: I was always playing catch up. Just being self-taught, I had no idea what a head of radicchio was. I had no idea pâté was. Being in the kitchen was an absolute eye-opener. So, I would just grab copies of whatever I could get my hands on and would just read, and read, and read! Of course, I didn’t understand it all, but my brain managed to somehow take it all in and store it somewhere. I was just going with the flow and whatever the chef told me to make, that’s what I would make. I really just got the basics down of chopping right, getting my mise en place in place by 5 o’clock and all that. Once I mastered that part, then I could understand things a lot more, and start to think about what kind of foods I loved in order to start creating my own dishes.
FJ: Having learned the way you did, do you have an opinion on what the best way for someone to learn would be? So, if someone just coming up through high school walked up to you and said, “I want to be a chef,” what would your advice be? BL: Before I gave them a definitive answer, I would tell them to actually check out what its like to work in a kitchen first. Spend a week in the kitchen. Take the time to see what the hours are like, and to see the discipline it takes. See the camaraderie and teamwork. That’s what it is. It takes teamwork, camaraderie, and discipline. If that’s what you think you need through school, then definitely go to culinary school. If it’s a passion though, and you eat, sleep and drink food, I’d say maybe hold off on school and step in to a kitchen. But, don’t step in to a [SALT] kitchen. You want to aim higher than lower. Accept a position in a kitchen, even if its just dishwashing to start. Observe, learn, and see what they do. If you’re passionate, you’re always going to be studying and trying to get better. I think culinary school is great to help some people learn how to become more disciplined.
FJ: So, clearly there are a lot of teaching opportunities in the kitchen, especially when you’re in charge. Do you enjoy the teaching aspect that comes with being a chef? BL: At first I didn’t like it at all. I had so much in my head that it would take too long to write things down, and show them. They’d always have to rein me in. I think any young chef is always trying to put more on the plate, do as much as they possibly can. Then as I honed in on my craft, I suddenly realized I wanted to take things out. It’s almost like therapy, right? You’re peeling layers off now, and then you’re perfecting, and perfecting. So when I became more established, opening my second, then my third restaurant, I learned that I couldn’t do it all. I needed to come up with tools that I could give to my chefs so that they could carry my vision out.
FJ: Do you have a favorite food memory? BL: I’d have to say it was when I was in Paris at this very avant-garde bistro. It was my first trip to Paris. I had ordered the lobster salad, and I can remember seeing this wonderful woman, Lulu, preparing the dish. I could see her in the kitchen with the live lobster, then her putting it in the pot, and then she chilled it. It was just perfectly cooked to order, covered with lemon juice, olive oil and fennel. It was the most incredible dish I’ve ever had. FJ: It seems like simplicity sometimes can really go a long way. BL: Yeah. And, she had like a 13 year-old commis working for her in the kitchen. It was just the two of them in the kitchen, and there were like 80 people there. It was pretty great!
FJ: So let’s change gears and talk a little bit about you, and the Barbara Lynch Foundation. You grew up in Boston. Your foundation was established to help the community. What does it mean to you to be established like that here in Boston? BL: Well, I never really moved away from Boston. I’ve always been a local girl, and I kind of always felt that the city was lacking some things. Take for instance an oyster bar. Before I had an oyster bar, I would always have to go to the north shore, to Essex, to get oysters or fried clams. I remember having fried clams at Kelly’s Landing in South Boston, but then all of a sudden we don’t have it any more. I always found it kind of disappointing when, in April, after a heavy winter, I’d have to go up to Essex just to have oysters and some great Chablis. I think pretty much everything I’ve tried to put in the city was always something I thought the city could use. And, it’s more nostalgia for me, than anything. Like, The Butcher Shop came from a memory I have of staying in Italy for two weeks. No. 9 Park was basically my first trip to Paris, and eating the restaurants there.
FJ: With the Barbara Lynch Foundation, what’s been your hope as far as the impact that the Foundation would have on the city? BL: The Foundation has amazing potential to become partners with larger companies. Over the last couple of years we’ve been able to work with some of the Blackstone Elementary School 3rd graders. I was inner city kid. I didn’t know what a cow looked like, had never milked a cow, and didn’t even really understand that food actually came from the earth. So, I felt it was important to teach those kids exactly where a tomato comes from, and that it doesn’t come from a ketchup bottle. We’ve been documenting the whole process in hopes that it can become a pilot program. We’re not only teaching them agriculture, but how to eat. We’re showing them what nutrients are good, basic nutrition classics, and urban gardening. They really seem to be enjoying it!
FJ: A couple of weeks from now you’ll be throwing the First Annual Blizzard Bash, all the proceeds of which are going to the Barbara Lynch Foundation. Can you talk a little about what people can expect? BL: The event is huge! It starts on Thursday, February 7th with the Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Gala Dinner at Menton. That will feature chefs like Daniel Boulud, Mark Ladner, Michael Tusk, and Joseph Lenn. Then, the next night, Friday, February 8th, the Blizzard Bash is being held at the Boston Children’s Museum. We have something like 35 chefs from all over the country coming. They’re donating everything, like their time and all that. It’s going to be one big fun party, but inside the Children’s Museum we’re going to have a lot of things going on, like, “How to Sharpen Knives” with Adam Simha. There’ll be areas for learning how to make honey, how to start a rooftop beehive, and all sorts of other interesting stuff. There will be a band too! So it’ll be one huge party. After that will be an after party at Villa Victoria, and there are separate tickets available just for that. The entire thing should be a lot of fun!
I suppose its funny that I saved this interview, the third in a three part series on lineage and teaching in the kitchen (Part 1 | Part 2), for last. But, I thought it to be the most fitting conclusion. After all, speaking with the student always gives you a glimpse of the teacher. In speaking with Chefs Andrew and Brian, it’s clear to see that Chef Jody Adams is, in fact, exactly that. A teacher.
The key component to any lineage, any strong legacy, is a passionate and knowledgeable teacher. Someone who can take that passion and knowledge, and transfer it to others. While its obvious that we could go much further back in time, for the sake of this discussion, it all starts with Chef Adams.
Foodie Journal: When was it that you discovered that you had a love for food? Jody Adams: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. When I was in high school, I cooked a lot. I didn’t just bake. I know baking is something kids do a lot, but I actually cooked. I spent a month in Morocco when I was 14, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen there. Then, I spent a summer in Guatemala when I was 16, and spent a lot of time in the kitchen while I was there as well. My mother was a good cook, so by the time I got to high school I found that I was very comfortable in the kitchen. I didn’t have any expectations that it would become a profession for me, though.
FJ: Was there a favorite dish that you enjoyed cooking? JA: I loved cooking an elaborate couscous. I also liked to make moussaka, or gnocchi. All kinds of things, really.
FJ: You mentioned that you didn’t have expectations that food would become a profession for you, something evidenced by the fact that you have a degree in anthropology. When was it that a career as a cook became an option for you? JA: I was 25 years old. After graduating from Brown, I spent some time trying to decide what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, so I was back in school taking some science and nursing courses so that I could apply for a masters program. As I was doing it, though, I started to realize it wasn’t really compelling for me, you know? And, I just couldn’t start a life wondering, “Well, maybe.” So I ditched that. I’d been working at a gourmet food store, and for a catering company. I’d been working with food almost my entire life, and suddenly I realized, “Oh my god! There it is, right in front of me. This is what I’m supposed to do.” So I sent a bunch of applications out, and managed to get some interviews at some places around Boston. I was lucky enough to get hired by Lydia Shire at Seasons.
FJ: Was working in a professional kitchen different from what you had experience up to that point? JA: It was a bit of a roller coaster for me in the beginning. Working for a gourmet food store, or a catering company, or at home is all very different from cooking in a fast paced restaurant. I didn’t cook fast, so I had to learn how to cook fast fast!
FJ: You obviously picked up a lot of what you know about cooking while working in kitchens. Do you feel like you missed out on something by not getting the chance to go through culinary school, or was jumping right in to the mix the best education for you? JA: I think there are many ways to skin a cat. I don’t regret the liberal arts education that I went through. In fact, I think having the degree I have let me think about food a bit differently. Where it comes from? Why it evolved the way it has? I think it has served me very well in my style of cooking. I definitely have learned a lot on the job. [PAUSES] I don’t know how to do ice sculptures. FJ: [LAUGHS] JA: I don’t know how to do fancy garde manger work with gelatins and all that stuff, but I don’t miss that. I think that when you go to cooking school you get a foundation, sort of a toolbox of skills. I think for me, I just had to find that along the way.
FJ: It sounds like learning, and teaching in a kitchen is a really important thing in the industry. Is that something you enjoy? JA: I’ve been at this for 30 years now, and that’s not how long I’ve loved cooking. That’s just how long I’ve been working in the industry, but for me it really holds the same excitement. I actually went to visit my son in New York recently, and he had some of his friends over. So my daughter and I took some food, and we cooked at his apartment. We made short ribs, and mashed potatoes, and bok choy and kimchii. We drank lots of beer. It was just fabulous for me, being able to cook with these young people and teach how to put things together. So, it still really excites me at that level. I’m very connected to it at its core, how exciting it is to teach people how to cook. I teach cooking classes once a month at the restaurant, and my husband and I have a blog we do to teach recipes for the home cook called The Garum Factory. So, I stay very connected to the whole idea of teaching.
FJ: My final question for you, Jody. Everyone that loves food typically has a particular food memory that they love as well. What’s yours? JA: Many, but I can tell you one. I was in Palermo. I was alone, waiting for a friend of mine that was flying in that evening, so I had the day to myself. I looked down an alley and saw a guy leaning over a little grill. He had this little tiny grill set up with artichokes in the coals, and he was grilling sausages. So we started talking a little. My Italian is not great, and he didn’t speak English, but we still managed. I asked him what he was doing, and he tried to explain it to me, and suddenly it was like I was in a movie. The window shutters across the way opened. This woman leaned out, clearly his wife. Then three of his adult children popped their heads out the window, and there was all this conversation back and forth. Out of nowhere they brought out a chair and made me sit down. They brought out a plate. They got me some warm Coke, and they fed me right there in the alley. He was obviously cooking dinner for them! They were about to have their family dinner. I was a perfect stranger to him, but there it was. Those are the kind of memories that I have. My memories are always of very simple expressions of hospitality, with delicious, simple food. The artichokes were unbelievable. They were charred, and they were yummy, and all it involved was just artichokes cooked in coals. Simple.
Jody Adams is chef and co-owner of restaurants Rialto, and Trade. Rialto is located at 1 Bennett Street, Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Trade is located at 540 Atlantic Avenue in Boston.
Jeremiah Tower was supposed to be an architect. A young man at the time, he was on his way to Hawaii to do just that. But, as has happened throughout history to many a young man trying to make their mark, Jeremiah hit a snag. He was down to his last $25, and stuck in San Francisco. So, what’s a man to do?
Why not become one of the individuals credited with completely redefining the American dining scene? Perhaps become the person that many consider to be “the father of California cuisine”?
If you ask him, Jeremiah will be the first to tell you that he never set out to change the culinary world. A lover of food since childhood, working as a chef seemed a natural way to earn some money so that he could continue on to Hawaii as he’d planned. Along the way, however, things changed. Not only did Jeremiah find success in the kitchens of California, he found a way to become one of the main architects of the American dining scene many of us know and love today.
I recently had the honor to speak with Chef Tower. During our conversation we spoke a bit about where his love for food began, what it’s like to have had such an enormous impact on the culinary world, and what he has on the horizon for the culinary world.
Foodie Journal: When was it that you first realized that you had a love for food? Jeremiah Tower: I fell in love with food and restaurants when I was five, and we lived in Sydney. There was severe food rationing at the time, except for in restaurants, so we ate in them a lot and I was allowed to go along. The most glamorous at that time was Prunier.
FJ: I take it that food continued to play an important role in your life through your teen years, and when you were in college. What were some of the dishes you enjoyed making in those formative years? JT: Well, my aunt sent me off to college with a hot plate, a Le Creuset frying pan, two bottles of hundred-year-old Madeira, and her recipe for chicken livers, which I cooked in the closet for my roommates. [LAUGHS] But, a favorite of mine, because of my Russian experiences, I loved making coulibiac, though I don’t typically do it with sturgeon. I prefer salmon, or something similar. Do you know what coulibiac is? FJ: No, that’s new to me. It’s a typical Russian dish? JT: Yes, so it’s a brioche pastry in to which is stuffed a whole salmon filet with rice, mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs. It’s beautiful in cross-section, and served on a big plate. Then you pour butter and sour cream all over it. FJ: Wow, that sounds brilliant! JT: It is! Then you have it with vodka. It’s really unbelievable! Aside from that, I would also make blinis. Obviously without caviar at the time, as it was very expensive.
FJ: So, despite that love for food and cooking, you didn’t originally start down a path that was likely to lead to becoming a chef or a restauranteur. What was it that finally drew you to the kitchen? JT: Circumstance. I had cooked a lot for friends in college and graduate school, but thought I was going to be an underwater architect. I was on my way to Hawaii to help with a pavilion for a World’s Fair, but I ran out of money in San Francisco. So, a friend suggested I take the job of chef at a café in Berkeley. I was down to my last $25, so I went for an interview. It was called Chez Panisse.
FJ: Now, from Chez Panisse you moved on to Stars, which was one of the biggest restaurants to open in the United States. Many credit you and what you did there as really changing the landscape of what it means to dine in America. What was it that led you to make Stars in to what it became? Were you interested in “changing the world” so to speak, or did you just want to cook your way? JT: At the time I was equal partners with Alice Water at Chez Panisse, but I decided to leave after she would not agree to do what is now the café. I was tired of Berkeley, and wanted to live and work in San Francisco. I was also in love with the idea of a brasserie, along the lines of La Coupole or Boeuf Sur le Toit in Paris or the old Delmonico’s in New York, with a huge bar. But, as a footnote, I really want to say that we had no idea what we were doing in terms of changing things, or creating what became known as California cuisine. I was not aware of the idea that we were changing anything. I was just doing what I wanted to do. Ultimately, what I wanted was what Johnny Apple, a writer at the Washington Post, later called “the most democratic restaurant in the USA”.
FJ: You definitely made an impact on the culinary world, and on many chefs with what you did at Stars. I recently had the chance to read your Kindle Single, A Dash of Genius, about Auguste Escoffier, and its obvious that he had a big impact on you as an individual. Can you talk a little about some of the others that impacted who you became as a chef, and what you want to create in the kitchen? JT: Another mentor was Fernand Point and his book Ma Gastronomie. I learned to cook from my aunt, her Russian uncle, and also my mother. Then the two people who influenced me when I was working in restaurants were my great friends Elizabeth David, and Richard Olney. Another mentor for me, not so much as far as food was concerned but very much for advice in general, was another great friend, James Beard.
FJ: So, what do you have in the works now as far as the culinary world is concerned? JT: Well, 10 minutes ago, I group of people just approached me about opening a dinner club in Merida (Mexico). [LAUGHS] Much to my surprise. But, what’s really going on is the project in New Rochelle, in New York. We’re going to be doing a big urban renewal of some old buildings there, the first of which will be a big food hall. It will involve lots of outreach and educational programs with students and farmers. FJ: That sounds really exciting! Glad to live not too far from New York so I’ll be able to pay it a visit when it opens. JT: It will be great for the community. A renewal for the culinary and agriculture in the region. It’s very exciting!
FJ: So on to one of my favorite questions. You’ve had a storied career, and undoubtedly have had countless experiences with food, so I need to ask the impossible question. Is there a particular food memory or experience that stands out in your mind? Something that really left a mark on you, and solidified what you love about food? JT: Fried eggs with a blizzard of white truffles in Barcelona last week at Ca l’Isidre. No, just kidding…
I think it was the meals with my aunt, and my Russian space scientist uncle in Washington D.C. when I was a teenager. My aunt was an extraordinary cook, and my uncle loved to talk about food. It was just amazing to sit around with them, eating and hearing stories told by some of my uncle’s friends, including a man who was a childhood friend of the man who killed Rasputin! These meals would just go on for hours, and I remember that, for me being a teenager, I always saw it as a check of my manhood to start off by trying 5 different types of vodkas, caviars and then make it through dishes like my aunt’s chicken liver with hundred-year-old Madeira. So that was an amazing introduction to how to eat glamorously, because they were glamorous and the conversations were extraordinary.
A Dash of Genius is available as a Kindle Single on Amazon.com. You can stay current with what’s going on in the world of Jeremiah Tower by visiting his website at jeremiahtower.com.