Carolyn Jung / September 2010
Food Arts presents the September 2010 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Joyce Goldstein, who, over the course of four decades as a cooking teacher, cookbook author, chef, and restaurateur, awakened Americans to the glories of the Mediterranean's many cuisines. At a time when French food was the rage, Goldstein broke the sacred terrine mold by offering Spanish tapas and Moroccan tagines at her pioneering San Francisco restaurant Square One. The author of 25 cookbooks, Goldstein is now writing a 26th: a history of the California food revolution. This petite powerhouse, 75 with much younger wattage, also recently worked with an alma mater, Yale University, to revamp its campus salad bars with made-from-scratch fare.
Goldstein came to cooking while in graduate school at Yale, where she not only received a master's in fine arts but also threw impromptu dinners. Indeed, she jokes, hers was not the idealized childhood of learning to cook at her mother's knee. "Nobody in my family could cook," she says of growing up in Brooklyn. "It was all gray meat and gray vegetables. But both my parents worked, so I was lucky to eat out a lot. We went to Peter Luger's and French restaurants. I cleaned my plate in restaurants."
The 18 months she spent cooking and eating in Italy and around the Mediterranean with her then-husband truly changed her life. After returning to the United States at age 25, she and her husband, tired of New York City, drove to San Francisco and never looked back. Goldstein started teaching cooking classes at her house, which proved so popular that she opened the California Street Cooking School in San Francisco. In 1980, her son, Evan Goldstein, who had dropped out of school and needed a job, was hired as a busboy at friend Alice Water's Chez Panisse. It wasn't long before Goldstein, too, was working at that Berkeley landmark, first as a fill-in baker, then as manager of the upstairs cafe. She loved it, but every time she wanted to cook something that strayed from the Provençal style, Waters would chide her that she could cook that in her own restaurant instead.
So, Goldstein did just that, opening Square One in 1984 when she was 49. "People would call and ask what kind of food it was," she says of what was believed to be the first Pan-Mediterranean restaurant in the country. "We'd tell them it was ‘Mediterranean,' and there would be silence. I'd have to explain that it was Italian, Greek, Spanish, Moroccan, Turkish…" Square One was one of the first restaurants to have a sommelier who wasn't French. That sommelier was Evan, who was 24 then, and eventually went on to become a Master Sommelier.
Although it closed in 1996, Goldstein carries on with the Passover dinner she started there in 1989 at Perbacco, drawing Square One old-timers. "Our customers came along with us and learned a lot," Goldstein says. "They learned that food doesn't come out of thin air, but is connected to people and culture."