Chef Jeremiah Tower will come out of his Mexcio retirement to cook at Tavern on the Green, according to the New York Times. The reaction that greeted this news may have been a little mystifying if you weren't into fine dining in the late 80s. As one of the owners of Tavern on the Green put it yesterday, "The 26-year-olds out there have no idea."
First of all—we're 28. Second of all—you're correct. Just who is this "Orson Wells of the food world?"
He's kind of a big deal.
Back while we were eating mashed peas, Tower was creating the food we eat today at his San Francisco restaurant Stars. Along with Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, he helped to develop what we now call California cuisine, first cooking with Waters at Berkeley's Chez Panisse, before falling out with her in the late 70s. He then moved to two of his own restaurants, Santa Fe Bar and Grill and Stars, a mainstay of San Francisco high society back in the day, that was located near Civic Center.
We went diving through the archive to learn more. Lo and behold, an August 1987 cover story that heaps praise on Tower. "The restaurant's opening [in 1984] was a long-awaited moment in San Francisco foodie circles, and it became an immediate and solid success." Stars flourished serving a brasserie menu (goat cheese in salads! thin crust individual pizzas!) with high-toned touches, like passing glasses on champagne to guests upon entrance. For many years, it was one of the top grossing restaurants in the country. So, bascially it was NoPa, but with more socialites.
Though he was one of the first celebrity chefs, Tower also faced a bevy of lawsuits including one from investors in Santa Fe Bar and Grill and another from a waiter who said he was fired from Stars after developing AIDS—winning $30,000 in 1993. Ultimately, the business over-expanded, tastes changed, and Towers left the country and the place closed down. Last we heard, he was in Mexico, living out the final scence of The Shawshank Redepmption.
What kind of cuisine can we expect Tower to bring to the East Coast? More figs on plate? Has the California revolution finally made it to the East Coast? We don't know, but there's one big clue that Tower left in that 1987 profile. They asked then what California cuisine meant to him. He blanched. "The Eastern press invented it, and then it made them nervous that San Francisco and Los Angeles were getting all the attention, that the most interesting things were happening here."
As for Tavern on the Green, who the heck knows? It's some New York thing, maybe? Good for them though. The new Manhattan is the old San Francisco.