SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Jeremiah Tower, the forefather of California cuisine came home recently to promote a documentary produced by Anthony Bourdain; “The Last Magnificent – Jeremiah Tower”.
The film is a most revealing look at a most private man. “No one gets to get into that dark, private room within Jeremiah Tower” says Bourdain in the documentary. In an on stage interview with the celebrated chef and director Lydia Tenaglia I asked J.T. why he let Lydia in? “Well, she was persistent and so eventually I said yes and allowed her in. What was the point of saying no”.
The 1 hour 47 minute documentary is a full serving of the life of Jeremiah Tower with four acts:
- His childhood
- Chef Panisse: where he first made his mark.
- Stars: the San Francisco restaurant that planted Tower on the culinary map as Chef & restaurateur
- Tavern On The Green: the comeback after fifteen plus years out of the kitchen
The film is beautifully shot and is blended perfectly with a sprinkling of real video from Tower’s childhood and kitchen career. Without giving anything away the film opens with a startling revelation that is both jarring and alarming but warms the viewer to Tower. His upbringing was an embarrassment of riches with fancy vacations, Michelin star meals but lacking in love from two rather absent parents. I’ll say no more.
The celebrated Chef and bon vivant was born in the United States, educated in Australia, England and France and now resides in Mexico so he is a worldly chap to say the least.
Jeremiah Tower began his culinary career in 1972-1978 as co-owner and executive chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. “I put salt and some cream in the soup on my first day and I was lauded a genius”. The rest as they say is history. Alice Waters gave him a break. Tower turned the hippie cafe into a fine dining restaurant creating fancy menus with recipes by Escoffier and the like. Pretty soon the word was out and people came from near and afar for the elevated cuisine. JT raised the prices of the menu from $6,50 to $7,50 for a three course meal. “Many were outraged then at the one dollar increase for a three course meal” (he chuckles). Alice Waters was invited to be a part of the documentary but declined.
After the Balboa Café in Francisco, the Santa Fe Bar & Grill in Berkeley, and Ventana in Big Sur from 1978-1984, Jeremiah opened and owned several other successful and highly acclaimed restaurants in San Francisco (Stars, Stars Café, Speedo 690), Hong Kong (The Peak Café), Singapore (Stars) and Seattle (Stars).
He sold the Stars restaurants to an Asian group in 1998.
Tower then moved to New York to pursue new projects. After four books and 26 shows for a PBS series, he moved to Italy and Mexico to SCUBA dive and research material for further books.
Chef Tower returned to the kitchen for a short spell in 2015 – 2016 at “Tavern on the Green” in New York. He was doomed from the start taking on a restaurant long cursed and as a New York outsider the critics pens were loaded with poison before the first dishes were served.
Jeremiah Tower is as his name suggests is a guy who Towers over most in the culinary world. He has been there and done it and paved the way for many. This documentary “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” finally gives him the credit he does so richly deserve. Though some may indeed argue otherwise.
Catch the film while you can at Embarcadero in San Francisco and The Shattuck in Berkeley. I highly recommend it and it I were reviewing in Michelin stars I would give it THREE out of THREE.
Enjoy my interview here with Jeremiah Tower and Director Lydia Tenaglia taped at Farallon restaurant, San Francisco.
5 Tasty Questions With Chef Jeremiah Tower