Monday, November 07, 2005

To the moon, Alice? 

Daniel Patterson wrote a piece in the NY Times (here). His point is that there exists in the bay area a tyranny of Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, which promotes conformism and stiffles creativity: all chefs implicitely submit to her dogma of first rate ingredient (Patterson admits this is good) and simple preparations to let these ingredients shine, anchored in traditional cuisines built on a terroir, a relationship to the soil.

See, Chez Panisse with its French-Italian roots, but also Olivetto, Zuni, A16, Delfina, etc. Even Limon or Slanted Door do not escape this dogma, according to Patterson.

Why do I mention this? First, the slightly parochial angle is quite ironic: it is published in the NY Times, and praises the NY cuisine for its inventiveness and dismisses SF for its boring alledgiance to said dogma. The reverse point-of-view on the controversy would be: NY chefs, without access to the bounty of excellent local produce that are available to SF chefs, are forced to use fancy technique --dubbed here as creativity-- to bring any life to their dishes, when Alice only needs a pinch of salt.

The second angle is the ad hominem version: Patterson was chef at Elizabeth Daniel, a place which had great reviews, but tanked quite fast. He was then involved with Frisson and left (I am not sure of the details). His cooking was 'creative' and did not succeed, which could lead to two conclusions: either DP's creativity does not fill or satisfy his customer belly (the first comment at citysearch, I myself have not been to either Elizabeth Daniel or Frisson) or there is something wrong with the city.

Well, I hear Winterland or Campton Place are doing quite well, thank you, so maybe it's not the city.


Wait, what's wrong with going to conferences for parties and beer?

what are you talking about? Nothing wrong with conferences, parties or beer. How does it relate to the post, though?
I absolutely LOVED Elisabeth Daniel. The food was outstanding, the service was perfect, and the atmosphere was peaceful, but you could see everything in the kitchen by walking down the hall a bit.

I was so sad when it closed. I would have liked to have my wedding dinner there; instead we went to Fleur de Lis where the waiter poured pea soup all over my new husband. Heh. We should have gone to Gary Danko.

Anyway, I don't know what Patterson is going on about in the Times. That seems like a very strange thing to complain about. What on earth is wrong with "simplicity and cultural authenticity"? Taken individually, those qualities include every cuisine I can think of.
I wanted to try ED, but could not make it on time (those places require special occasions, and there are only so many).

Frisson, I never really wanted to try, it sounded too lounge-y and not enough restaurant-y. Maybe it was just bad PR.
I believe the latter axiom; NYC, for all its fabulously, must import many ingredients from far away and thus must rely on "inventiveness" to mask the inferior quality of its dishes' elements. If restaurants in NYC even tried to be Waters-esqe, they'd leave even the Zagat's crowd disappointed.
I wrote a response to the Patterson piece
over at knife's edge. I agree about tquality of NY produce. I worked for ashort time at Savoy, where chef Peter Hoffman is a big-time Greenmarket supporter, etc. and the stuff coming in the door would have been thrown out at our local Safeway.
I know this is naughty to say, but I had one kind of boring meal at Chez Panisse. Not like I expect things to be exploding of my palate all the time, but I guess the problem of Alice Cuisine is that it is entirely dependent on the quality of the chow. And maybe the quail I ate didn't take good care of itself before it was taken to the table.
Pepper, naughty girl! How dare you say this! I am putting my hands on my ears and singing really loud.
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