Inside the California Food Revolution with Joyce Goldstein
Joyce Goldstein and her new book Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years That Changed Our Culinary Consciousness (University of California Press) was toasted at a chef-tastic event at Perbacco restaurant this week. The California food revolution has been not-so-quietly changing the way we cook, eat, and shop. Like any revolution, this one involves heavy lifting (mentally and physically) from scores of chefs, purveyors, artisans and wine and cheese-makers -- many of them self-taught.
Photo courtesy of Waverley Aufmuth / Andrew Freeman & Co. Joyce Goldstein with Emily Luchetti at Perbacco Restaurant
Goldstein is probably the perfect candidate to document this movement given her history as a restaurateur (Square One), chef and author. Her worthwhile effort describes many of the key places (Stars, Chez Panisse, Zuni) and players -- Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, Mark Franz, Narsai David, Traci Des Jardins, Bill Niman, et al. She is able to dig deep on the local and national ramifications: from open kitchens to service and menu style, peer within these pages. SFoodie caught up with Goldstein to find out the how and why behind her exciting book. Goldstein will be cooking a course for the CUESA 11th annual Sunday supper on October 20.
SFoodie: You are the author of 26 cookbooks. This book has menus but not recipes. How was the writing process different from your cookbook work?
Goldstein: It's not a cookbook. I can write a cookbook in my sleep. I worked on it night and day.
A cookbook has a format. You have the ingredients, head notes and there's a guideline and a theme. It's comprehensible. I've never written a history in my life. Then UC Press asked me and I thought, I can do this. I've been here since 1960. I know people here and in Southern California.
The whole interview process took 6 to 7 months and transcription took another 6 to 7. My granddaughter did much of the transcription. I would read the interviews and digest them and see whose quotes were the best. My initial text was double the size of the finished book. I wanted to include everything from everyone who gave me their time.
A lot of the quotes had to be truncated -- I felt bad but I understood it. I had written an outline and there were lots of different topics from the open kitchen and how it effected design and service with customers. And the daily menu changed to reflect the seasons. People were also educating clientele as we went along -- a lot of ingredients people had never seen before, so you'd get a "what the hell is this?" from customers.
Many people were self taught: chefs, purveyors, farmers, cheese-makers. People said, I'm ongoing to do that and I'm going to figure it out. So the book has two big messages: you can do it and be prepared to work really hard.
SFoodie: You interviewed more than 200 chefs, purveyors, artisans, winemakers, and food writers for this book. Is there anyone who stands out as saying something that shocked you or made you laugh?
Goldstein: Nothing was really shocking. Some people are wonderful interviews and very chatty and some people you have to do a little pulling of teeth. Talking to Mark Franz surprised me to learn that 80% of the items at Ernie's were frozen.
Listening to Narsai talking about Potluck Restaurant, which everyone thought was the messiah. They were using frozen vegetables and powdered stock. Those were really good cooks to make that taste delicious.
Most people in the sixties were pretty naïve. Today your customer knows a Lucerne strawberry from a Swanton berry. Back then you didn't know and didn't give a damn.
SFoodie: What places are the epitome of California cuisine?
Goldstein: There are so many of them. Northern California actually has a terroir and there are ingredients that we recognize. Whether I'm eating at Aziza modern California cuisine or at Manresa which serves dishes that are very specific to their farm. Or Nopa or Greens, no matter where you eat, if the chef is doing his job, it's California cuisine; at Contigo eating tapas on bread, those ingredients are from California. Matthew at SPQR also has California in the ingredients. It's happening here, and has a sense of place.
When you eat out, you can say "this is Italian and French" yet ultimately if they're using ingredients in such a way, then it's California cuisine. To me California is fresh, it's in season, and it's grown by people we know. That doesn't mean they're not flying in ingredients like uni from Santa Barbara or pork from the Midwest but on the whole, there's a sense of place.
Northern California has more women chefs more than any place in the world. There's a community and structure and the women were very important. I don't want to leave them out.