CALIFORNIA KICKS FRENCH BUTT
Dominique Crenn, one of Stars restaurant most fabulous alumni, is about to open a California Cuisine restaurant in Paris. Elle magazine interviewed me last week about it, asking how the term “California Cuisine” was born.
The fact is that “New American Cuisine”, springing out of California Cuisine, might never have been discovered if it weren’t for a bunch of pushy French chefs.
It was the spring of 1983
The year that the ad agency for Ocean Spray was charged with placing cranberries at the forefront of American gastronomy.
Their idea was a dinner, “Innovations in Food,” for one hundred syndicated food journalists at Beechwood, the Astor mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. Showcasing the “innovative sauceless cuisine” of Paris’s Guy Savoy. My crew from the Santa Fe Bar & Grill in Berkeley, California, was to prepare a little lunch to keep up the strength of the writers for the all-day workshops on culinary trends.
The first challenge was to get the cooks and food to New York from California. What kept me up at night was how to get past the airport check-in with fifteen hundred pounds of food and luggage.
The list of our “bags” was staggering: 125 individual California goat cheeses, two hundred grape leaves (in April that was like asking a winery to give up a whole vineyard), five gallons of sauce essences, and twenty-five California lamb loins. Everything was packed in four enormous coolers, one of them full of noisily scratching Bay Area Delta crayfish, another full of fresh coconut ice cream.
Nothing could describe the look on the check-in agent’s face as she tried to understand the scratching of hundreds of tiny claws against the cooler walls, but minutes after my explanation, the five of us had first-class tickets and increased luggage allowances.
“Kids,” I said, as the plane left the runway, “this is just the beginning.” Then we found our way to Newport and the Astor mansion.
I had a chance to find out. His crew preceded him, and they were armed with attitude. At first they ignored us, but packed into that small kitchen wasn’t easy, so they asked us to leave. Their needs took precedence, they said, because the serious meal—dinner—was theirs.
All was quiet for a moment. I don’t know what made me keep silent, my English-schooled manners again, or possibly my status as a guest in someone else’s kitchen, but all I could think of was keeping our focus.
Also, I had read Sun-tzu for years, and stepping aside was my first Art of War move.
“All right, girls and boys,” I said. “Grab everything and follow me.”
We set up an entire kitchen on the lawn in front of the terrace where the top 100 food journalists would sit.
In their full view.
Two hours later, the press materialized.
Recipes and a lot more below. Hope you like it.