“If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing with style, and on your own terms, and nobody else’s.”
Jeremiah Tower, “The Last Magnificent”
There are some chefs that are just part of the common pop culture sphere, and whether you regularly eat at high-priced restaurants or more casual, there are certain food trends you know about (bacon, sliders, duos and trios). You’ve probably also heard of restaurants touting all things “farm to table.” But the chef responsible for the trend that is becoming an industry standard has a name that was almost lost to history until Anthony Bourdain and his appreciation for culinary minutiae came into the picture. With documentary The Last Magnificent, Bourdain and his producing partner, Lydia Tenaglia (who also directed the film), have creating a loving tribute to Chef Jeremiah Tower, America’s first celebrity chef and food influencer, the greatest chef modern America has never known.
View Trailer Here: http://edition.cnn.com/shows/jeremiah-tower-film
- NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 16: Film subject, chef Jeremiah Tower speaks on stage at CNN Films – Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent at TFF Panel & Party on April 16, 2016 in New York City.
Jeremiah Tower was born in Connecticut in 1942, and spent some of his formative childhood years traveling with his parents on luxury cruise ships, where he first learned to appreciate food as art. He graduated from Harvard with both undergraduate and master’s degrees, and during his college years, he hosted small dinner parties for friends, who encouraged him to pursue food as a career.
In 1972, he was hired as the executive chef of Alice Waters’s now seminal restaurant Chez Panisse, where Jeremiah Tower’s ability to create beautiful, classic French cuisine help keep Chez Panisse on the map. As legend goes, during a week when a number of the usual ingredients the restaurant used for the menu was unavailable, Jeremiah recalled a dish made by one of the classical French chefs that was an homage to California cuisine. So inspired, he served one of the first farm-to-table menus in the country and American food culture was never the same.
In anticipation of CNN’s world premiere of The Last Magnificent, we had a chance to ask Chef Tower a few questions and he was generous enough to speak about breaking into the restaurant business, creating a revolution, and the perfect recipe for those people who have no time to cook. He also became dining companion #goals with his love of regular meals of Mexican street tacos and margaritas.
Eating with Erica: What made you say yes to this documentary?
Chef Jeremiah Tower: You just don’t say no to Anthony Bourdain and [he and Lydia Tenaglia] went through so much red tape to make this happen. You can’t say no to this kind of project.
- NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 16: (L-R) Executive Producer Anthony Bourdain; Chef Mario Batali; Director Lydia Tenaglia and Film subject, chef Jeremiah Tower at CNN Films – Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent at TFF Panel & Party on April 16, 2016 in New York City.
Did you realize at the time you were creating a revolution (that would also become an industry standard) when you created your now-revolutionary 1976 menu from Chez Panisse?
Anthony Bourdain calls [me] the first celebrity chef, but I had no idea. I was just trying to pay the bills and keep the doors of the restaurant open. I first realized it was a big deal after I was featured in several newspapers in 1983, following a large culinary event, and once again after a dinner I organized an American Celebration that was featured by the James Beard Institute.
- NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 16: Director Lydia Tenaglia and Film subject, chef Jeremiah Tower at CNN Films – Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent at TFF Panel & Party on April 16, 2016 in New York City.
What is your proudest culinary moment?
When I opened my restaurant for its first lunch service, no one came in, but my sous chef and I kept working, even though no one came in for lunch the first day.
What advice do you have for a young chef trying to break into the business?
We had a 16-year-old boy come into our restaurant every single day, and when I questioned how he was able to afford to eat here, he just said “I’m going to work here someday.” So I told him to take his jacket off, and set him to work peeling vegetables, and everything I asked him to do he did without complaint. My advice is to go to your favorite restaurant and make a name for yourself and be indispensable, and do not take “no” for an answer.
What dish do you recommend all young people learn how to make?
People who say they don’t have time to cook are talking rubbish. When you first come home, pour yourself a glass of wine, and set a pot of water to boil. As your water comes to a boil, pour yourself another glass of wine and take a shower. After your shower, your water should be at a boil, throw some noodles in there, cook and drain. Throw some tomatos, garlic, wine, et voila! Pasta with red sauce should be something every young adult knows how to make.
Make sure you tune watch Anthony Bourdain Presents JEREMIAH TOWER: The Last Magnificent for CNN Films Sunday, Nov. 12 at 9:00p Eastern and Pacific.