Writing the history of California cuisine as it evolved during the past 30 years would pose a daunting challenge, even if you had lived and eaten your way through it.
So when the University of California Press approached Joyce Goldstein to write the book, the former chef and cooking teacher was leary.
"I've written 25 cookbooks, but I'd never done a history before," she said in a phone interview from her San Francisco home. "It was a little scary."
Leveraging her reputation as a trusted insider, however, Goldstein was able to get interviews with 200 movers and shakers of the movement, including North Bay pioneers such as Sonoma cheesemaker Laura Chenel, Petaluma poultryman Jim Reichardt of Liberty Ducks, Napa forager Connie Green of Wine Forest Wild Foods and St. Helena chef Hiro Sone of Terra restaurant.
Then, Goldstein carefully braided their stories into an engrossing narrative, relying on her background as one of the innovative chefs who brought "flavor first" to the table.
"I knew everybody actively involved in this field," said Goldstein, who worked at Berkeley's Chez Panisse and went on to serve as chef/owner of the groundbreaking Square One in San Francisco. "I knew they would take my call."
After three years of intense research and writing, the 320-plus-page book -#8212; "Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed Our Culinary Consciousness" -#8212; was released last fall as the first authoritative account of this watershed moment in American cooking.
Goldstein grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., lived in Italy, then taught cooking classes from the mid-1960s through the 1980s in San Francisco.
<strong>Q: Some of Wine Country's pioneers are mentioned early and often in this book. Could you talk about their contributions?</strong>
<strong> A:</strong> There's a whole Wine Country story, because the wineries and the restaurants were mutually symbiotic, each supporting each other.
We couldn't have done it without each other. I think that the kind of food we were cooking affected California winemaking because the winemakers weren't just matching brown and cream sauces. All of a sudden there were salsas, and the food was more assertive, and that made the winemakers change and try to balance flavors.
<strong>Q: Who were the North Bay folks at the forefront?</strong>
<strong> A:</strong> Paul Draper from Ridge (Vineyards), Bob Mondavi and the Cakebreads -#8212; all of these people were aware of what was going on. Most of the ones I talked to were self-taught. Joe Phelps was in construction. Paul Draper was self-taught.
Laura Chenel. Bill Niman (of Niman Ranch). The Cowgirls (of Cowgirl Creamery). All self-taught. And it's amazing because they succeeded. This was an era of very passionate, crazy people.
<strong>Q: Which Wine Country chefs stand out from the rest?</strong>
<strong> A:</strong> Sally Schmitt of The French Laundry was really a pioneer, and John Ash (of John Ash -amp; Co.). Bruce LeFavour (of Rose et LeFavour of St. Helena) and Cindy Pawlcyn, who did go to school. I picked people who were representative of different periods.
<strong>Q: Could you summarize the high points of California cuisine?</strong>
<strong> A:</strong> The definition is loose. Yes, ingredients were fresh. That's important. Yes, local whenever possible, and grown by people we knew, not anonymous. Everything in season. Grilling. Live-fire cooking. Wood burning ovens. And open kitchens were very important. That changed the demeanor of the dining room. If you went to restaurants in the 1950s and '60s. ... It was like going to church. By putting the kitchen in the room, it changed the mood and became more collaborative and fun.