Restaurateur and cookbook author Goldstein (Tapas, 2009, etc.) interviews pioneers of California cuisine, paying tribute to their roles in shaping how the world has come to regard dining out.
Fresh, seasonal, sometimes organic, artisanal, or locally sourced, often drawing from several cultures, even political—from 1970 to 2000, "California cuisine" inspired ideas now taken for granted at the table. Not without its detractors, who considered the cuisine elitist, the media-driven label was initially avoided by several chefs. Goldstein proposes that California cuisine flourished due to the state’s climate and environment, which allowed for varied produce, coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit that hoped to depart from the traditional, Euro-centric fare of the times. Borrowing from the lightness of nouvelle cuisine and the innovation of fusion cooking, the cuisine’s early days presented then-unusual alternatives, with occasional missteps, as well as now-famous signature dishes. Changing perceptions of food led to the rise of such significant figures as Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters. Thoughtfully woven related themes include sustainable agriculture; differences between Northern and Southern California kitchens, from guiding principles to plating styles; perspectives among self-taught and professional chefs; increasing acceptance of ethnic dishes; the popularization of open kitchen designs, and more. While several interview highlights detail the beginnings of particular restaurants, with frequent mentions of Spago and Chez Panisse, the most perceptive accounts consider broader philosophies on everything from dining habits to ingredients. For the most dedicated food historians, the narrative reveals a period rife with invention. Facsimiles of menus provide glimpses at past trends and staples.
Goldstein convincingly presents a case for California cuisine as a vital force in strengthening connections among food, chefs and diners in ways that have transcended region.