Q: What are the most distinguishing characteristics
of California cuisine?
A: California cuisine is really a celebration of
the region and climate and not a kind of food or
a list of recipes. It is a very informal, spontaneous,
free-flowing style of cooking that allows perfect,
fresh ingredients to speak for themselves.
Q: In Jeremiah Tower Cooks you coin the phrase
“new-old” food. What does this mean?
A: It means pushing the new-ingredient frontier while
adhering to historic techniques and cooking principles.
For instance, at Stars [he opened the first Stars restaurant
in San Francisco in 1984] we introduced beef cheeks,
prepared in a very traditional braising method.
Q: James Beard noted that you are able to catch
the spirit of the time. What’s special about today’s
California food spirit as compared to nearly 30 years
ago, when the California-cuisine movement started?
A: When I started I had to almost invent ingredients
or wish them out of the ground. There were no fresh
truffles, mascarpone, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese
or extra-virgin olive oil—nothing. And fresh herbs
did not exist in any supermarket across America.
Now they’re all everywhere.
Q: What’s the most misunderstood aspect of
A: This cuisine is not a list of recipes; it’s letting
the ingredients make the call.
Q: No matter where you live, what California
food items can always be found in your pantry?
A: Avocados for sure, chiles, artichokes, olive oil,
olives, Meyer lemons and all the amazing citrus from
California, wine of course, and I wish, though it’s
not true, that I could get fresh abalone—but you
just can’t get it anymore.
Q: And your California signature dish would be?
A: Plate-cooked fish. It’s just such in the spirit
of California: easy to do, fast and glamorous.