10.07.2008

California Cuisine


This "California cuisine" thing is really something. Despite various attempts to define it, the whole thing remains elusive. Every other cuisine I know can be defined by their spices and method of cooking, such as Indian cuisine, known for spicy curries with meat and breads cooked in a tandoori.

So I do research, and the definition is as pretentious as the restaurants who claim to serve it. Jeremiah Tower is credited for bringing the unique and "stacked" presentation to California. So...if I neatly stack pita bread, grape leaves and hummus into a cool-looking tower, it goes from Mediterranean to Californian? Wolfgang Puck is credited on Wikipedia's "California cuisine" page for opening Spago and being a celebrity chef, but brings nothing to the table as far as unique dishes. Perhaps some are hoping that the word "celebrity" will be the magic word to justify everything, as it does for trainers and stylists on makeover T.V. shows.

Then there's "fusion" - something California is known for. While Asian fusion is the most popular version, (putting soy sauce and sliced scallions in a ramekin where ketchup should be), one cannot borrow from another cuisine, force it into an American dish and claim it as it’s own.

Celebrity chefs and tiny towers of food don't make up for unique spices, marinades and cooking techniques. The truth is a lot less glamorous. California cuisine really entails taking a salad or sandwich (already perfected by another region) and shoving in a helping of alfalfa sprouts and avocado.

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