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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Daniel Patterson Talks Storytelling and Food, Zings New York Chefs

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 6:25 PM

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As a prelude to Le Fooding's upcoming New York vs. San Francisco "showdown," The New York Times' T magazine asked David Chang and Daniel Patterson to talk about West Coast vs. East Coast food. Patterson, first up, started by yawning at the question, then asking a different one: What makes a regional cuisine?
When we recreate dishes from other cultures verbatim, we're telling other peoples' stories when we should be telling our own. Stories about the Native Americans who lived here for a thousand years, eating acorns and wild herbs and berries; about the hippies, with their communes, sprouts and wheatgrass; about the swirl of traditions and languages of the people who settled here; about the land, with its vast biological diversity. And about ourselves, the cooks: who we are, where we came from and how we see the world around us. A healthy regional cuisine, like a healthy culture, encourages diversity of expression as well as fealty to shared values.
He calls out Mourad Lahlou's food at Aziza for reflecting stories of place and personal history. I'd piggyback on Patterson's shout-out by arguing that the dedication to storytelling is the hallmark of San Francisco's new crop of restaurants. It's present in Carlo Espinas' Barbary Coast-meets-CSA food at Comstock Saloon as much as it is in James Syhabout's harmonically intuitive cuisine at Commis. This new generation of San Francisco chefs is breaking away from Cal-Ital-French, while applying the rigorous technique they learned from the Cal-Ital-French chefs who still craft exquisitely simple "California cuisine."

So you have Joshua Skenes' hearth-cooked but extravagantly imagined food at Saison, the farm-centric Mexican fare at Gonzalo Guzman and Jose Ramos's Nopalito, Corey Lee's formal juxtapositions of Asian and French at Benu, Sara Kirnon's blending of Californian and Caribbean at Hibiscus, the tweaked Americana at Scott Youkilis's Maverick. It's also present, of course, at Coi.

As for those shared values? They almost don't bear repeating ― or

perhaps, for the same reasons we read from the Torah or recite sutras,

they do.

Of course, in a side note about New Yorkers' perception that San Franciscan restaurants all serve the same thing, Patterson zings the East Coast propensity for upscale fried chicken, pizza (on that front, I'd refer him the sordid pot-kettle affair), and one last thing:

New York chefs may make fun of Californians, but they're using all of our produce (several days later), and the latest trend seems to be "farm to table" restaurants. I feel like I've seen that before. Somewhere.
I look forward to reading Chang's reply.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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