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Where It All Began

Beverly Stephen - September 2013

San Francisco—Remember when there was no goat’s milk cheese, when there was no arugula, when there was no tuna tartare on menus, when waiters wore tuxedos, and restaurant kitchens were hidden from view?

It wasn’t the dark ages. Everything about the way we eat changed radically in the last 30 years, and most of it started in California. Joyce Goldstein, who was indeed Inside the California Food Revolution as the chef/owner of the groundbreaking restaurant Square One in San Francisco, chronicles those astonishing years in her enlightening book due out this month from the University of California Press.

Goldstein interviewed almost 200 chefs and restaurateurs, artisans, farmers, cheesemakers, designers, and purveyors (see Darrell Corti, Silver Spoon), who made it all happen.

Michael McCarty commissions a young designer named Ralph Lauren to come up with an alternative to tuxedos—pink shirts, khaki pants, Top-Siders. Laura Chenel makes goat’s milk cheese. Warren Weber (Star Route Farms) grows arugula and mesclun mix. Chez Panisse and Spago open up their kitchens. Rochelle Huppin dreamed up Chefwear for women. Each of the sections leaves the reader with an aha moment—“So that’s where it all started.”

Goldstein notes that New York City über restaurateur Danny Meyer “revealed that he had drawn ideas from an exploratory restaurant tour he had taken to San Francisco and Los Angeles.” He told her, “California was enormously inspirational to me—my early experiences at Square One and Stars and Spago. There was permission to stylistically present the food and wine in a way that was accessible to people. In New York City in 1985, the prevailing wisdom was that if you wanted to eat well, a restaurant pretty much had to start with ‘Le’ or ‘La’…. What California gave me was the permission... to try to do it all.”

Goldstein writes that “many people currently working in restaurant kitchens or shopping at farmers’ markets are unfamiliar with the early chefs, farmers, and artisans who brought about the California culinary revolution…. They are not aware of the work it took to get to where we are now. That’s why I wrote this book.”