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California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution

3.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743228459
ISBN-10: 0743228456
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Years back the standard Jeremiah Tower press kit claimed the master's hand in the development of everything to do with food just this side of the invention of fire. California cuisine? Café dining? Franco-Asian fusion food? All Jeremiah. Well, that was PR, a subject Tower addresses in his memoir of his life in food and the food business, California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution. This isn't to say that Tower doesn't make his own argument for all his contributions, setting the record straight where he thinks the record has slipped into mythology. His contribution to the rise of Chez Panisse, for example. This is a man with an apparent lifelong habit of journal keeping. He isn't waiting for his own demise for the story to unfold. Rather, Tower tells all--his version of all--in the here and now, letting the chips fall where they may. The pleasure may be vicarious, but it-s a pleasure none the less.

In 50 years the organizing principle of this memoir, that the rise of California cuisine and who gets credit for what actually matters, may hold no water. But California Dish will remain invaluable as a memoir of the time by one of its more outlandish characters, a man who spent a good deal of his youth on ocean liners and in upscale hotel dining rooms. He shares all this in the spirit of James Beard's Delights and Prejudices, which documented an earlier time and way with food. Tower will be accused of cattiness, no doubt. And he is. He'll be accused of self-promotion. And he does. But he also lays on the praise where he believes it is due. When he admires other chefs and their work, he says so. In a series of scenes he returns to James Beard the dignity of his sexuality, like throwing the switch from two to three dimensions.

The first-person point-of-view often reveals much more about the writer than the writer ever intended. It's the nature of the beast. Tower may have been aiming at an improved press kit version of his life. But what press kit was ever poignant? For all the names of the famous, for all the celebrity happenings, the constant world travel, the designer labels, Jeremiah Tower seems a lonely man by book's end, a glass of fine champagne his best friend. --Schuyler Ingle --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Tower opens this memoir with the story of going head to head with French chef Guy Savoy at a sort of junket for the culinary press back in 1983 and how he won over his audience with an audacity born of equal parts pride and inexperience. His fusion of cooking talk with more personal gossip and the inclusion of the revealing aside is sure to captivate foodies. But Tower's pacing meanders, and his gracious facade shows more than a few rough and brittle edges. An abiding bitterness is the only thing revealed in Tower's version of the creation of Chez Panisse and the rivalry with Alice Waters that ensued. Other sections-especially the chapters on his running San Francisco's Stars-likewise avoid topics of obvious interest to make room for name dropping and ax grinding. The occasional insertion of menus or recipes is random. Tower's personality comes through in bits and pieces as he frankly remembers the highs and lows of an important career, but the picture as a whole is less than flattering.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (July 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743228456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743228459
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,353,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

February 2010
Jeremiah Tower was born in the United States, educated in Australia, England, France and the United States, and is now an acclaimed authority on food and restaurant hospitality.
He began his culinary career in 1972-1978 as co-owner and executive chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. After the Balboa Café in Francisco, the Santa Fe Bar & Grill in Berkeley, and Ventana in Big Sur from 1978-1984, Jeremiah opened and owned several other successful and highly acclaimed restaurants in San Francisco (Stars, Stars Café, Speedo 690), Hong Kong (The Peak Café), Singapore (Stars) and Seattle (Stars).
Jeremiah sold the Stars restaurants to an Asian group in 1998.
Tower then moved to New York to pursue new projects. After four books and 26 shows for a PBS series, he moved to Italy and Mexico to SCUBA dive and research material for further books.
Jeremiah has written several cookbooks, starting in 1980 as assistant and sometimes co-author with Richard Olney of the Time Life Books' thirty volumes of The Good Cook. In 1986 he published the very successful and James Beard Foundation winner Jeremiah Tower's New American Classics (Harper & Row). In 1995 he contributed to The Artist's Table for the National Gallery of Art. His cookbook, Jeremiah Tower Cooks, was published by Stewart Tabori & Chang in the fall of 2002, and reprinted in June, 2003 and received national press as well as "best cookbook of the year" from Australian Vogue Entertaining. California Dish, a book on the history of the American dining revolution that started in California, was released by Simon & Schuster in 2003 and in 2004 as a paperback. America's Best Chefs with Jeremiah Tower, the companion book for Tower's 26 shows on PBS, was released by John Wiley & sons also in 2003. He then revised and edited Henri-Paul Pellaprat's (for years head of the Cordon Bleu school in Paris) 800-recipe and masterpiece cookbook of classic French cuisine, which was released by Vendome Press in late 2003 as The Great Book of French Cuisine. Also published in late 2003 was his chapter for David and Jean Halberstam's Defining a Nation for Tehabi Press and the National Geographic, and Cooking the Costco Way, for which Jeremiah was the consultant for the California chapter. He has also written several articles for magazines, as well as restaurant guides for London, Paris, New York and San Francisco, and was featured in the 2001 Christmas cover story for Food & Wine. From 2000 to 2004 he was a weekly columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, and contributed to The Financial Times Weekend. In that period he also wrote Forwards for The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery, by James Beard, The Farallon Cookbook, by Mark Franz, Stars Desserts (with Stars' pastry chef Emily Luchetti) and the cookbook from Arrows restaurant in Maine.
He has been featured in the Wine Spectator and in The New York Times by Julia Reed.
Tower appeared in the PBS series Julia Child's "Cooking with Master Chefs" and its companion book. He has been featured in other books such as those produced by Tiffany and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as appearing in many other cookbooks, books on the history of food as well as on culinary commentary, most notably Patric Kuh's The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America's Culinary Revolution, and the very successful books by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. He has been a guest on national and local television programs, and has appeared on "Good Morning America" (ABC) and "CBS This Morning," as well as the Regis show and "The Late Show with David Letterman," and has appeared also on the "Ken Hom Cooking Show" for the B.B.C. He was the star and host of a television series launched in April 2002 on PBS called "America's Best Chefs" that featured twenty-six half hour shows spotlighting the James Beard Foundation Awards' "Best Regional Chefs in America."
Since the 1980's Tower has promoted New American Cuisine with teaching engagements at culinary academies (C.C.A. and C.I.A), cooking expositions and classes in the United States (Epcot International Food & Wine Festival), France, Germany (airline catering conference keynote speaker), Australia (VIN International, and Gourmet Traveler's "Restaurant of the Year" judge), Japan, Hong Kong and other S.E Asian countries, and most recently as a panelist at the New Orleans Writers Conference where his cookbook was one of the best sellers, and as a speaker on 'Diversity' at the prestigious Santa Fe Institute.
He is or has been a member of various food & wine societies, including La Chaine de Rotisseurs, Chevalier de Tastevin, 'LOrdre de Coteaux de Champagne, a Friend of the Widow, The American Institute of Wine and Food (co-founder), The James Beard Foundation, and The International Wine & Food Society.
Other than the James Beard Foundation's award for "Outstanding Chef in America" in 1996, other awards include the 1991 induction into the Nation's Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame, the 1993 Regional Best Chef California by the James Beard Foundation, the prestigious James Beard Foundations' "Who's Who in America," as well as the 1994 USA "Chef of the Year" by Chefs in America.
Jeremiah has lived and traveled over most of the world, and has been involved in consulting and with wine and food promotions in Canada (Hotel Vancouver), Australia, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, Japan and England, and has had national publicity in all of them.
Tower currently lives in Mexico and Italy, working on a two new books and articles for U.S. culinary magazines like Food Arts, as well as buying, restoring, and selling old colonial houses in Merida and working on a major land development at Chichen Itza, both in the Yucatan.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Jeremiah Tower's outrageously stylish memoir, and I don't hesistate to say it's compusively readable and hugely entertaining. I grew up in San Francisco and know the culinary history of that fabled city inside and out. I only know Tower through his reputation. While I've dined at Stars, (wonderful food in a superb party atmosphere), his now-closed bistro in San Francisco, I never ate at Chez Panisse during his tenure there as the chef.
I appreciate anybody who isn't afraid to bite back at a nasty and disloyal media, or some of their powerful icons. And Tower takes no prisoners here, deservedly serving up Alice Waters, Michael Bauer (S.F. Chronicle food critic), and others. He's already been accused of being bitter--and so what! But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Tower grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. His mother, aunt and uncle and his world travels, exposed him to a wide range of great cooking, the best in wines and spirts, even during the terrible 50s when the U.S. was pretty much a agricultural and culinary wasteland when it came to fresh ingredients. Tower further refined his pallette in Boston during his Harvard years. Well traveled, well-read, intensely and naturally curious about food and the great wines and spirits of the world, it's no wonder that he gravitated towards cooking professionally. Though he never attended culinary school, he didn't need to. He was a collector of menus, wrote his own, and came up with wonderful ideas based on his education, his experience and his organic connection to food.
Tower managed to talk his way into the chef's job at Chez Panisse, and the rest was history. He brazenly established his surpremacy calling upon everything he had learned, and his timing was impeccable.
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Tower is obviously a genius. He also comes across as somewhat narcisistic, but in an interesting way. His understanding of food, wine, eating are obviously very deep. The accounts of the beginnings of California cuisine and the whole food revolution are dead on. In the tradition of Alice B Toklas, he enjoyed his drugs. I reccommend this book highly to anyone interested in food, particularly American food and definately California or Berkeley food. The fact that I can buy fresh mesclun mix on an island six thousand miles from california is at least in small part thanks to Towers, and for that alone he deserves fame and fortune.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeremiah Tower is without a doubt one of the culinary world's most dynamic, enigmatic souls. Having met him several times and tracked his career over the years, I can testify with certainty that he polarizes people immediately. People with big personalities and charisma tend to do that. Tower's "autobio" is at times painfully self-aggrandizing and his tone can be bitter, but the real point of this book is DOES IT ENTERTAIN? I say YES. There are so many sides to every story and I for one am pleased to read that Alice Waters is not the second coming of Mother Teresa. This book does a great job of capturing a period in time (The Celebrity Chef) that will not be repeated despite the best efforts of young turks like Rocco DiSpirito. It happened once, like the era of the supermodels in the late 1980s and early 1990s and that's what Tower attempts to share with his readers. This book isn't as mean-spirited as people think, and certainly no more so that the media is to celebrities on a daily basis. A decent read where you can open any chapter and enjoy a tidbit about Tower's life. Tower is a terribly self-absorbed agent provacateur but that's what makes him so interesting and a real catalyst for change in the food world--then and now.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I worked for Jeremiah off and on for 17 years or so. He is totally correct. His inspiration was Curnowsky and the classic French cuisine of the late 19th century.This is what made him famous as no one in the early 1970's was particularly focused on organic, fresh yes, but not organic. That was what attracted the likes of James Beard and other luminaries to his table. He cooked like this while in college, long before Chez Panisse was conceived. He wanted his own restaurant and he really paid rent on the space that STARS occupied, for 6 years before he opened it in 1985. It was his intellectual interpretation that brought Chez Panisse it's fame in making California the birthplace of Modern American Cooking.

While there were restaurants in the East that relied on fresh produce and meats from local farmers, they were all owned or under control of French chefs. Jeremiah was the first American who realised the importance of local and fresh. NOW, the standard of good restaurants.
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Format: Hardcover
As a food professional, I was eager to read about the whole California food revolution from Ms. Towers' perspective.
It took over two months for me to finish this book, not because I am educationally challenged in any way, but because the absolute pomposity of this man actually irritated me to the point where I had to stop reading it.
There are some fascinating stories and interesting facts but these are overshadowed by Towers' constant self-loving and enormous ego (at one point he states that during his training as an architect, he came up with plans to build an under-sea tunnel connecting Britain to France, long before anyone else! How sad).
The common thread running through this book is his constant sour grapes towards Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Mr Towers felt he never really received the huge amount of praise he needed, and was sure he deserved, for his contribution at Panisse.
Most chefs dream of owning a restaurant-Jeremiah Towers owned several AND they were all successful. Despite this, and the fact that he was in the limelight as a celebrity chef for a few years, he still remains bitter. I guess some people are never satisfied. It's a shame, this could have been a good book. Check please!
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