Saturday, November 20, 2021

California Dish: a very short review

Over the summer, I happened to watch The Last Magnificent, a fairly interesting documentary of celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower.

Although Tower's particular approach to cooking, and to the restaurant business, are not really my thing, I was interested enough by the documentary, particularly by its Bay Area history aspects, to spend some time reading Tower's memoir, California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution.

The book is pretty much exactly as promised on the overleaf: it's a chatty and gossipy memoir of Tower's career as a Bay Area celebrity chef during, roughly, the period 1975-2000. Although there are recipes in the book, it's definitely not a cookbook!

Although the book remained interesting enough that I turned the pages to the end, the overall approach of Tower's memoir style can be boiled down to:

  • Here's this (in)famous incident I was involved in as a chef, you may have heard about it.
  • Here's who was there, and here's the shocking thing that happened, really!
  • (almost always) And here's why it wasn't my fault

Event organizers, famous celebrities, patrons of fine cuisine, restauranteurs, politicians, businessmen, farmers, other chefs; all end up feeling the heat from Tower as somehow he bowls through madcap incident after madcap incident overcoming everybody else's mistakes and shortcomings.

Which is pretty much par for the course for a celebrity memoir, I guess.

Anyway, there is a lot of Bay Area history in California Dish, particularly cultural history of the period 1975-2000, which was a time of tremendous change in the Bay Area, and so even if I didn't learn much about which French wine to pair with grilled Tomales Bay oysters, or how to run a gourmet restaurant, I certainly had an entertaining few hours sitting at the table listening to Tower spin his absurd stories of the good old days.

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