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Oct 7, 2012 04:26 PM

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 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.

            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. 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 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.