Californian cuisine has had a moment for over 50 years
Costs. Handcrafted. Multicultural. Balance. Relaxed. Ask five different chefs to describe California cuisine and you’ll hear at least five different words.
For half a century, Californian cuisine has escaped the technical rigidity associated with other established culinary genres, becoming as ubiquitous in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as it is here in the Coachella Valley and up desert. The open-minded, farm-to-table philosophy of Californian cuisine has exploded far beyond the Golden State, continually sparking every facet imaginable in the food world.
“It’s going far rather than taking a shortcut”, explains Iinside the california food revolution author Joyce Goldstein, who worked as a chef and teacher at Berkeley icon Chez Panisse and owned and operated the groundbreaking San Francisco Square One restaurant before becoming an author and consultant.
The origins of Californian cuisine can be traced back to 1952 when Helen Brown’s West Coast Cookbook was first published. Brown advocated for adopting ingredients found in his own neighborhood instead of just relying on what was available at a grocery store. The book, adored by culinary titans like James Beard, has become a model of both classic and contemporary cooking.
The movement was cemented in the late 1970s when chefs like Alice Waters at Berkley’s Chez Panisse, Sally Schmitt at Napa Valley’s French Laundry, and Judy Rodgers at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe were more fascinated by the generosity of neighboring farms and vendors. as per established culinary traditions, prepare comfort foods like spicy crab pizza, tomatillo tortilla soup and espresso granita.
âWhen we first started cooking what would become California cuisine, having an open kitchen and a wood-fired grill was a big deal,â says Goldstein. âThey were revolutionaries at the time. Now, when you walk into a restaurant and see these things, you don’t blink.
Along with the emphasis on lighter, seasonal ingredients, Goldstein notes that California cuisine is also heavily influenced by the state’s melting pot of cultures, including the Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean, Persian, and Indigenous people.
âWhen it comes to ethnic influences, there are those that are natural, like when you grow up eating ginger, you don’t think it’s weird because you’ve always had it,â Goldstein says. “There’s also the more modern and trendy element of fusion, where cultures are combined on one plate, which can lead to great food but often leads to very confusing food.”
Keeping food as authentic and simple as possible is key to preparing dishes that quintessentially represent the Golden State. For chefs in the Coachella Valley and the High Desert, this often means marrying locally sourced elements, like citrus and stone fruit, with dishes that are flourishing in other parts of the West Coast, such as seafood and other proteins.
âWhen you have great ingredients, you don’t want to mess it up,â Goldstein says. “It is essential.”