Dream Note:
Cuisine bourgeoise
13 June 2018

It turns out that the Video Room doesn’t stock Anthony Bourdain’s documentary, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent. If I want to see it, I’ll have to buy it. 

Who is Jeremiah Tower? I started hearing about him in the late Eighties, when Kathleen joined a law firm the head office of which was in San Francisco at the time. For several years, we went out to the Napa Valley for autumn retreats. Kathleen got to know a San Francisco partner who was Tower’s boyfriend, at least that’s how I remember it. We knew the name of Chez Panisse, but we never attempted to experience it. The restaurants in Napa were more than enough. 

Do admit: “Jeremiah Tower” is a power name. And it has been coming up in book after book. Well, two books. Maybe. Certainly in one: Andrea Barnet’s Visionary Women, where Tower has a big part to play in the Alice Waters story. Curious to hear him tell it, I ordered a copy of Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America. Having read it, I find I’ve lost my appetite.

I can’t recall if Richard Olney mentions Tower in his strange memoir, Reflexions; Tower more than mentions Olney in his. (They were companions for a while.) Olney was austere, Tower appears to be gregarious, but both are far too excited by food for my taste. My own sensibility, I see, is retiringly bourgeois. The other day, I came across a very fine description of it in a story by Mavis Gallant. (“In Plain Sight,” collected in Paris Stories.) 

He pictured, with no effort, a plate of fresh mixed seafood with mayonnaise or just a bit of lemon and olive oil, saw an omelette folded on a warm plate, marinated herring and potato salad, a light ragout of lamb kidneys in wine. 

Not that these are favorite dishes of mine; I can’t imagine what the light ragout would taste like. But, like the writer who is imagining what it would be like to effect a rapprochement with his neighbor upstairs, the formidable Mme Parfaire, I am ravished by the prospect of peace and comfort inherent in these meals. The table-hopping, something-for-everybody cuisine of Tower’s San Francisco restaurant, Stars, sounds psychotic by comparison. Not to mention all that wealth and winery. 

I can’t say, either, that I’d object too strenuously if someone else took up the cooking. 

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