Jennifer English for Bottoms Up! Who Finds a book collection to die for and falls in love all over again with Jeremiah Tower.
From Jennifer English for Bottoms Up! Who Finds a book collection to die for
And falls in love all over again with Jeremiah Tower.
I am swooning right this minute as a sip of chilled Veuve Cliquot Champagne washes a kiss of Caviar down, here in the buzzy dining room of Stars San Francisco. Soon, the glorious, gifted Chef Jeremiah Tower glides through the room. He sports a twinkle in his eye and a glass of his own. Veuve of course, in his hand, angled welcomingly toward mine in a pre-clink position. He is a culinary intellectual and his classic sensibility has won me over for life.
This is my foodie fantasy. Unfortunately, this never actually happened. But my remarkable, rich, delicious and serendipitous professional culinary career has been spent searching for the next best things to a seat at the Great One’s table. I am alive during the richest, most exciting time to be a foodie in the last 100+ years. I am alive during the time of the great Chef Jeremiah Tower, aka The Great One. Now I must confess that I am not fortunate to have dined at Chez Panisse with Tower in the kitchen, or at the legendary Stars at the Zenith of its popularity. No. I have never dined in a Tower dining room. And perhaps that disqualifies me somehow. But please allow me to make my case.
I love words. I respect great minds. I adore great writing as much as I love fine food and flavor. I am a disciple of the Irresistible. I am not an easy swooner. But I have swooned a time or two in my career. Once at an original Hog Island Oyster Company picnic table. I have swooned at the tables of Chefs Hubert Keller and Patrick O’Connell (thrice) and Ris Lacoste (every time). But who is counting? Swooning is not something one takes lightly. It is serious business. As in Love, we may flirt and date, but to win our hearts is another matter altogether.
The conditions of swooning, as in love, can be summed up in a short list of characteristics. The impeccable Hubert Keller stunned me into silence and sweet tears with a soft smoky duck dish that is the finest I have ever experienced. I have had the pleasure and honor of dining with Chef Keller at events and other dinners as well and his charm, humor and power in person are as stunning as his finesse on the plate.
Patrick O’Connell has the most beautiful hands I have ever seen. One thinks of Chef’s hands, as portrayed on Food Network and elsewhere as workmanlike and grimy with cuisine effort, short nailed, strong but stubby. But Chef O’Connell has the hands of Michelangelo. Long angular artist’s hands with gentle coloring and sinewy strength. His hands are articulate and they say meticulous. I would happily eat anything they make.
Chef Ris Lacoste cooks with love. In fact she starts with love as a key raw ingredient, applies her perfect technique, and then churns out pure love on a plate. I dare you to dine at RIS in Washington, D.C. and not swoon. Try the butterscotch pudding and next thing you know you will be picking out rings.
But for me, if I were to be stranded on the Desert Island, which one Chef would I choose? Easy. Jeremiah Tower. OK so he does not have his own restaurant anymore. I get that he is not churning out the next generation of Rising Star Chefs, year after year. He isn’t featured on the Best Thing I Ever Ate (why not? I would love to hear his answers!!),nor is a judge on Iron Chef America (but he should be).
I think Chef Tower is the greatest living food writer. Not merely because he is a brilliant writer but because he has lived a remarkable adventure of a life and knows the most delicious way to tell you about it. From his days at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters to his time with James Beard, Russian uncles, caviar soaked saturdays and cannibis consomme with Alice B. Toklas.
Tower is credited with creating California Cuisine and by extension modern American cuisine for which he gets insufficient credit and thanks. Jeremiah Tower is one of our greatest living public intellectuals in the world of food. I urge you to let his words speak for themselves and visit his www.jeremiahtower.com website for the dishy, delicious, historical and important news. I wish that we had panel shows that would show off his genius and wit. I can’t wait for his turn on Charlie Rose. Frankly, I can’t wait for him to be on my own show again.
I am not one to long for a stroll through the Paris which welcomed Julia Child. I mildly mourn missing the opportunity to snatch a French Fry from James Beard’s luncheon plate. (Although the consequences of such an act have been described to me and I for one am glad I never made that grave mistake!) But I would not trade my time, right now for another.
There are those who lament being born in the wrong time. Longing for the cultural fabulousness of another era is a common condition. This past week, television reports of those paying homage to the victims of the Titanic were complete with mourners in Vintage clothing hosting vintage era funereal banquets.
Passionate history buffs re-enact key battles from the Civil War. Still others listen moist eyed to music, from the Big Bands to the Beatles and wish they had been swinging long ago. Sailors kissing a girl in Times Square at the conclusion of World War II with Benny Goodman swinging away. I am not one of them.
Culinarians are not immune to this disease. Today we think back to life on the farm and the clean, pure, pre-Monsanto flavors of honestly, artisinally crafted cooking, canning and cuisine (Yes I have been to Brooklyn recently). Chef Grant Achatz is taking this notion so far as to re-create specific time and place themes at his award-winning restaurant Next in Chicago.
On television, a show called The Super Sizers takes us on factual forays into just what people ate from other times with shocking results. The fact of life from another time is explored, ingested and considered. Warts and all. Food, it can be said, was appalling for most everyone but the very very upper crust of long ago. All peasant food fantasies of crusty bread and simple wine in the South of France or Tuscany vaporize in the cold harsh light of televised exploration.
The show is brilliant in concept and even better in execution. It serves to prove to me, what I know for a fact. That today, in spite of all the chemicals, processed foods and environmental hazards, there has never been a better time to be a foodie and cocktailian.
But is that the same thing as swooning? It is not. I want more. I want it all. I want to feed my brain as well as my body in the modern food temples around the world. I want my mind to perseverate on the smart stuff as much as my palate hangs on to the perfect morsel. I want more Jeremiah Tower.
While I am content to live in this delicious time and place, I do wish I could be teleported back to San Francisco to be seated in the electrifying dining room of Stars.
But one can walk in the steps of the Great Jeremiah Tower, and thumb through the pages of his world-class culinary library. Omnivore Books in San Francisco is offering the culinary library of Jeremiah Tower for sale. I am not talking about books written by Tower, although there are some of those, and I consider them essential to any culinary library worth a damn. No, for sale are the Classics. Offered are rare and out of print books in several languages owned by Chef Tower and instrumental to his own culinary education.
Imagine owning one of Martin Luther King’s own books about peace. This is a rare and historically significant collection. I bought a couple that have his handwritten notations in them as well as his signature.
These books inspire me because they serve to illustrate the journey Chef Tower undertook. A path I now travel as I continue to make my way as a culinary broadcaster.
Visit www.omnivorebooks.com and be inspired. Make sure you go towww.jeremiahtower.com for the most evocative, toothsome and remarkable culinary writing one can hope to find. I eagerly await his next book. Now I really am off to thumb through his copy of The Bon Vivant’s Companion and drink a glass of champgne.
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2010 Gracie Allen Award Winner: Best Interview Program
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James Beard Award Winner