Sunday, March 08, 2015

That Artichoke Book

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I'm reading this book.
Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed our Culinary Consciousness by Joyce Goldstein is a very thorough look at California cuisine as it emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, and as it developed in the 1990s. I particularly wanted to read this book as counterweight to the overpowering presence of New York in many culinary books and articles that I've read. Emphasis on restaurants while ignoring home cooking sometimes bugs me, but it seemed natural here.

I enjoyed the first several chapters a lot. Goldstein's interviews with food personalities captured the sense of excitement and innovation she was describing. Restaurant owners and managers, cooks and chefs, restaurant designers and architects, farmers and foragers, food journalists and cookbook authors, American-born participants, immigrants from many other countries, trained food professionals, self-taught cooks -- so many people contributed to the development of new techniques, emphasis on fresh local ingredients, constantly changing menus, and many other innovations.

Goldstein provides a lot of information about the solid importance of women in the California culinary revolution. Her chapter on women and how they run restaurants and kitchens might be the most interesting one in the book. She particularly offers insights into women's distinctive, collaborative styles. In the Afterword she mentions that unfortunately women are again being shut out of leadership in the contemporary culinary world, especially as Food TV pushes everyone into silly and unproductive competitions. 

The predictable personalities appear here -- Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Mark Miller, et al. But a large numbers of others also received plenty of attention. I learned about Sally Schmitt, the actual founder of the French Laundry Restaurant in Napa Valley, for example, not just the more famous chef Thomas Keller who took it over later. The author's own restaurant was covered but without too much ego, to my surprise. Somehow her writing doesn't show excessive hero-worship or name-dropping, either.

Goldstein highlighted the differences among restaurant concepts in Berkeley, San Francisco, the Napa Valley, and Los Angeles: centers of the "revolution." The incorporation of ethnic foods from many cultures into the mainstream was another interesting topic. Facsimiles of daily menus from 20, 30, or 40 years ago were great for illustrating the concepts that she described. The old menus also support her idea that some of the innovative dishes became old-hat. You know, radicchio, arugula, golden beets, goat cheese, duck sausage. 

There's a lot to like in this book, even if like me, you haven't often eaten in revolutionary California restaurants. But unfortunately, after a while, I found the book a bit repetitive. OK, I scanned rather than carefully read the last half, which seemed to be going over the same ideas too many times.    


Maureen said...

I've never been to trendy California restaurants either but it's an experience that's on my bucket list. Sounds like a book I'd really enjoy reading.

~~louise~~ said...

I must admit, Mae, I've never been overly enthused about California cuisine. To me, it seems to be repetive by nature. (Many corporations in early California history left their prints on Californians and their cuisines, I don't think that has changed much) Although, I do have a few California Cookbooks that I really enjoy one being Sumptuous Dining in Gaslight San Francisco. Ah ha, maybe I'll share that book for Cookbook Wednesday this week:) Maybe?

Thanks for sharing, Mae...