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Northern California Cuisine

Hello Everyone,

I want to tackle the cuisine of Northern California but I'm at a loss to start. I've searched the Chowhound boards but can't nail anything exact down and I've looked into Google but all I can find is that Northern California cuisine is a fusion of French, Italian, and Mediterranean with an emphasis an fresh local ingredients. Is there anything specific that anyone can mention or at least point me in the right direction? Specific recipes? I really don't want to have to buy the French Laundry cookbook in order to cook Northern California style. As far as Southern California goes, I have that in the bag. Living in Southern Nevada, most of our cuisine is similar to Southern California. Emphasis on fresh with a Mexican twist. Thanks in advance.

-Mal Carne

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  1. Have you looked at Alice Waters' cookbooks? Also, give Jeremiah Tower's books a shot, he was an early employee at Chez Panisse. Jonathan Waxman has authored at least one cookbook, he also was an early chef at CP.

    1. It sounds like your definition of Northern California cuisine is mostly focused on the bay area and the wine country. There's another 250+ miles of California north of there. I grew up there, I can't say I recall a lot of French, Italian, or Mediterranean food--well, maybe some old-school red sauce Italian up around Weed (they once had a fair-sized population of Italian immigrants working in the lumber mills), but otherwise, not so much!

      I did know quite a few folks who hunted--venison, duck, goose, pheasant, quail. You knew they liked you if you got invited for dinner during hunting season! We also used to get some wonderful trout from a friend of my dad's who loved to fish Hat Creek, up near Mount Lassen. If you want to represent the diversity of the entire region, any of those would be good choices.

      In the north end of the Sacramento Valley they grow a lot of olives, almonds, and walnuts--recipes with any of those would fit your theme. A little further south is rice country. Also in that part of the valley, you'll find some people of Basque heritage, and a few great home-style Basque restaurants. There should be some Basque recipes around online to add to your mix.

      Not sure if that's really what you're looking for, but that's the Northern California cuisine I remember!

      1. You've certainly got a handle on the fresh local ingredients part; usually not tampered with much, since the original ingredients are so stellar. I'm thinking about foraged/fished/hunted foods here; venison, quail, mushrooms, abalone. I guess Waters or Tower are good starting points, though Tower is much fancier. I don't consider Keller to be a good representation of the cuisine....don't get me wrong. The man has enormous talent and his food is absolutely stunning in every way. But I know of zero home cooks who really attempt to cook the way they do. Alice Waters is probably the best bet: fresh ingredients, prepared to showcase the ingredients themselves. Think berries, as well; artichokes; almonds; salmon (sometimes...). You might also consider checking out Deborah Green's cookbooks - she brought Cali-veg. cuisine to a whole new standard with Greens at Ft. Mason.

        1. look into deborah madison also.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            LOL, hotoynoodle. What a gentle correction! I can't believe I did that!! :)

          2. You might go to the Napa style website and check out Michael Chiarello's cookbooks and recipes http://www.napastyle.com/recipe/landi.... You might see if his recipes are the style you are looking for by searching him out on the food network site too.

            Sounds like maybe you are interested in a more of a "wine country" style? As Napa and Sonoma foods are very Mediterranean influenced.

            Weirdly enough, I use the Sonoma Diet cookbook for many daily meals (not as a diet book) because I love simple, clean, healthy daily dinners. The author, Connie Gutterson is a CIA nutrition instructor. Her recipes are very good and are all focused on "power foods" like avocado, whole grains, almond, tomato, olive oil, wine, etc and are all very Mediterranean influenced. http://www.sonomadiet.com/food-recipe...

            I live in the Pacific Northwest and our seasonal foods are similar, only not as Mediterranean influenced....we tend to have a more Asian bent in general. Tom Douglas has a few books out that are great for using seasonal produce and fish. http://www.amazon.com/Tom-Douglas-Coo.... His books are terrific but might be too far North from what you are looking for.

            For someone that is very CA influenced, but moved to the Pacific Northwest and incorporates a bit of that influence as well, you might check out The Herbfarm Cookbook http://www.amazon.com/The-Herbfarm-Co.... This book has more Mediterranean influenced recipes (utilizing Italian prosciutto, fennel, olives, as well as some French influence with the herbs, duck, etc) and of course, it is very herb- centric.

            Hope I gave you some ideas. I am a big fan of these styles as well.

            1. One of my favorite cookbooks is very representative of food of that area - Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. She highlights the produce available by season and develops her meals around them. You might want to see if the library has it.

              1. In my mind, old school Northern Californian cuisine(pre-Alice Waters, pre-Mission burrito) includes cioppino, crab louis, old school Mexicali chile rellenos, old school Mexicali chimichangas, steamed Castroville artichokes with lemon mayo, artichoke squares, fancy omelettes (in the late 1970s/early 1980s) , Hippo Hamburgers (RIP http://www.flickr.com/photos/14696209... ) and various garlicky recipes from Gilroy (http://gilroygarlicfestival.com/festi... ).

                While I realize Alice Waters and the people who followed her lead are connected to the current concept of "Northern Californian cuisine", when I visit Northern California, I tend to focus on artichokes, crab louis and old school Northern Californian Mexicali.

                1. Keep in mind that Northern California is huge and then you have the bay area and that is divided into several different ethnic groups.

                  The best Nor Cal cook book for our region is one put out by Sunset Magazine.

                  I find Latino to be popular here and it has a California flair. If you could mention what your looking for. I might can help you better.

                  The food in the Bay area is closer to Polynesian/Hawaiian Food, then greek, mediterranean, lots of seafood... which is unique to the area.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sarahgw

                    Thanks sarahgw. I checked out the Sunset cookbook on Amazon and that is close to what I'm looking for, a start at least.

                  2. As far as Southern California goes, I have that in the bag. Living in Southern Nevada, most of our cuisine is similar to Southern California. Emphasis on fresh with a Mexican twist.



                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Yes, with a few exceptions. We can't get really fresh fish here like you can get in the coastal areas of California. It comes close but you can't beat fish that was pulled out of the water a few hours ago. Our vegetables mostly come from California and a few local growers. Again, not as fresh as picked right out of the ground and cooked, but close since the main agricultural areas of California are about a day to day and a half drive away. As far as diversity in cuisine types, our population is similar to Southern California, just smaller. We have a huge Hispanic population and we see it represented very well in our local cuisine. I'm not sure what you're getting at, it's hard to write an answer to a one word response. Can you clarify so maybe I can answer you better?

                      1. re: Mal_Carne

                        Southern CA cuisine is much more than food with an "[e]mphasis on fresh with a Mexican twist."

                        That's sort of like saying a Ferrari is a fast car with limited luggage space.