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What is "cal" cuisine? [Moved from S.F. board]

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What makes a cuisine, cal-cuisine?

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  1. In the SF Bay Area, it means focus on seasonal, local ingredients, as pioneered by Chez Panisse.

    1. California Cuisine as a cooking style generally refers to dishes based on locally-produced meats, fruits, vegetables and herbs, prepared relatively simply so that each ingredient is readily discernible, with sauces or reductions used with a very light hand. One finds French influence in the preparation, but the overall effect is light and lively. The classic restaurant examples are Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley, or Michael McCarty's eponymous Santa Monica eatery Michael's.

      California cuisine has its origins in the early 1970s, hit a peak in the 1980s (remember the ubiquitous raspberry vinaigrettes at every "fine restaurant" in the US?) and has faded into simply another style of American cooking.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

        "... dishes based on locally-produced meats, fruits, vegetables and herbs, prepared relatively simply so that each ingredient is readily discernible, with sauces or reductions used with a very light hand."

        That also describes the cuisines of Italy and Provence.

        And, really, what Chez Panisse did, starting in 1971, was figure out how to cook like that in California. It was more about developing a network of farmers, ranchers, bakers, and so on to provide higher quality ingredients than it was about cooking. Chez Panisse inspired other cooks all over the U.S.

        That movement hasn't faded or even hit its peak yet.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Bravo to that! I think that the boom in Farmers' Markets is a huge part of the movement, bringing true "California" cuisine in to homes across America. Also, the success in the Bay Area of organic produce distributors fuels increased plantings of heirloom varieties. It just keeps getting better and better.

      2. Well stated-- better than I could!

        I think what I meant by "faded into simply another style of American cooking" is more that the central tenets of "California cuisine" have been absorbed into the common practice of better restaurants in the US-- as you put it very aptly, setting up and maintaining a network of local suppliers to ensure the freshest product possible on a year-round basis.

        The Italian and Proven├žal influences are appropriate, given California's Mediterranean climate. The other heritages that color Cal-Cuisine are obviously Asian and Mexican, in terms of presentation, philosophy and ingredients.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

          Good points: the use of fresh ingredients, simply prepared, is also the hallmark of fine Cantonese cuisine, and probably just as much an influence on California cuisine (for that matter, before artisinal farming became trendy in the '70s, it was Chinese and Japanese truck farmers who were growing most of the high quality produce).

          But before there was Alice Waters, there was the Berkeley Co-op, which encouraged people to be more aware and connected with the sources of their food; and its home economists, who encouraged people to eat more fresh and minimally processed foods. I don't think it's much of a coincidence that Chez Panisse opened right across the street from a Co-op store.

          I often say that, having grown up in and around Berkeley in the '60s and '70s, and having a mom who shopped at the Co-op, and later the Monterey Market, California cuisine is my native cuisine, long before it had a name and anyone had heard of Alice Waters.

          1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

            I often refer to Cal cuisine in other places (say Eugene, OR or Carbondale, CO) as "American regional cuisine."

          2. "Cal" cuisine or California Cuisine? Cal cuisine is what you get from the various cafeteria on the Cal campus. California cuisine is what others have said.