Why Anthony Bourdain wants the world to know about chef Jeremiah Tower
Jeremiah Tower changed the food scene in America — first in the 1970s, as the executive chef at the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and then with his own restaurant Stars in San Francisco.
But when Tower closed his restaurant in 1999, he just disappeared.
"Jeremiah Tower was the first professional chef in America who could credibly be called a celebrity," Bourdain tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
"He was the first chef who the customers not just wanted but insisted on seeing in the dining room … [He] was writing menus that really redefined the place of American ingredients and American-sourced products, seasonality, the region."
Everyone from style maven Martha Stewart to chef Mario Batali to food critic Ruth Reichl agree: Tower's influence on American culinary cuisine is undisputable.
Tower learned to cook in the kitchens of the grand ocean liners and great hotels, as his wealthy parents socialized and left their son to his own devices.
At one point, Tower's parents were surprised to run into him in a posh hotel restaurant where he'd been living — each thought the other had put him in boarding school months earlier.
After stumbling into professional cooking — his original plan was to be an underwater architect — Tower made Stars one of the top-grossing restaurants in America in the '80s. But after the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, customers disappeared, and a few years later, Tower left the culinary scene.
"I'd been doing it for 35 years, 80 hours a week," says Tower.
But when Tower left for the beaches of Mexico, food journalists wrote him out of history, says Bourdain.
"Jeremiah was an inconvenient man suddenly," says Bourdain.
"He was bad at fame maintenance … And as a result, year after year, journalists perpetuated an alternate creation myth that every year made him seem less important and less central to the history of American gastronomy."
The film, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent opens in Canadian theatres on May 5.
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.