The Living Legend Reflects on the Meaning of California Cuisine, Los Angeles versus San Francisco, and Early Encounters with Fellow Luminaries
If you’re just joining our interview with Jeremiah Tower, whom we connected with in person during his visit to New York City this week, you might want to read Part 1 of our extensive conversation before reading on. Herewith, the balance of our dialogue:
TOQUELAND: California cuisine. Do you like that term? Do you feel like it was, in hindsight, the right term for what it describes?
TOWER: California cuisine is not the right term because it wasn’t a cuisine; it was a mindset which was the only one I knew because I grew up in Europe, where the menu is done from the marketplace. .. it was really restating what was completely obvious to every French grandmother for the last 500 years. It was an approach to cooking. ..
And then, a couple of years later, with things like [Michael McCarty’s] Michael’s [in Santa Monica]. Actually, before Michael’s it was Michael Roberts’s Trumps restaurant. They really started the look of the new restaurant. Looking around here [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted at Ai Fiori], this all started in Los Angeles, in two or three places, where you put the approach to cooking with a design look, white and beige and simple and everything. .. that attitude towards design and what you could do, what you could get away with, making it exciting, plus the approach that you just cooked whatever you could find that was excellent in terms of ingredients. That’s really what it was about.
TOQUELAND: Do you think Los Angeles has been undervalued as people look back on the evolution of American food and restaurants in the 70s and 80s?
TOWER: Completely. This is why I made the point, because people don’t know the story. And the writers who came later were so focused on Chez Panisse and San Francisco and everything. But really Trumps –it was Michael Roberts who had that. There was the West Beach Cafe in Venice; it was just a little building and it was all white concrete and white and steel, you know? Really early on. And then came Michael and Trumps and one or two others. Cecelia Chiang came to me one day and said, “Jeremiah, you’ve really got to see what’s happening. You’re not going to believe what’s happening in Los Angeles.” And without that, I wouldn’t have known.