It would be difficult to overstate the importance that chef Jeremiah Tower has had on American cooking. He’s one of the giants, a chef who carved a path so innovative and so important into American culinary life that today’s chefs still follow it without perhaps even knowing about Tower himself.
It started at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, back in 1972, after the Connecticut-born, well-traveled son of aristocrats, and Harvard-educated master of architecture Tower joined Alice Waters in the kitchen of her restaurant. He had always cooked, and cooked well, for his friends, read historic cookbooks for pleasure, and loved the art of preparing food far more than he did the planning of buildings. He was an immediate hit in the kitchen and eventually became a partner. He not only brought exquisite European-style cooking to the Bay Area, but he and Waters created a truly American cuisine, using ingredients sourced ultrafresh and locally and devising a fresh new way to prepare them. After six years at Chez Panisse, Tower moved on, as executive chef at Big Sur’s Ventana Inn, San Francisco’s Balboa Café, and as co-owner of the Santa Fe Bar & Grill, where he explored southwestern cooking.
But it was his San Francisco restaurant Stars, from 1984 to 1998, that brought him nationwide recognition as the founding father of California cuisine, as a chef with a glamorous clientele and the country’s buzziest restaurant, and as someone who constantly pushed the boundaries of what was possible in the kitchen. In 1993 he won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: California.
Meanwhile, he worked on the classic Time-Life series “The Good Cook” with Richard Olney, published Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics (1986, winner of a James Beard Award), and went on to write and publish many more, including America’s Best Chefs Cook with Jeremiah Tower and the companion book for Tower’s 26 shows on PBS (2003). He also revised and edited Henri-Paul Pellaprat’s The Great Book of French Cuisine (for years Pellaprat was head of the Cordon Bleu school in Paris). His memoirs include California Dish: What I Saw and Cooked at the American Culinary Revolution (2004) and Start the Fire: How I Began A Food Revolution In America (2017).
After selling the Stars restaurants to an Asian company, Tower helped it open Stars outposts in Seattle, Singapore, and Manila. In 2015 he took over the reins of New York’s Tavern on the Green for a short six months. In 2016, the biographical documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, by Anthony Bourdain and Zero Point Zero productions, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. He has lectured and taught others about New American Cuisine, been a food and restaurant consultant around the world, and now lives in Mérida, Mexico.