A few years ago, I told chef David Kinch about a many-course meal I enjoyed in a San Francisco restaurant. There were tiny wild mushrooms poking up from edible soil, wood smoke trapped under glass with seared venison, hot chocolate cake bathed in mist from dry ice. Kinch, who owns the three-Michelin-star restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos sighed, shook his head and said, “Dan, I can tell you where every one of those dishes came from.”
When I recounted this conversation to Daniel Patterson, co-owner of Alta CA, he wasn’t a bit surprised. “I can usually look at a menu and tell where the chef trained and who they admire and what cookbooks they have in their kitchen,” Patterson told me.
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I eat out enough to recognize the odd borrowing, like those ubiquitous baked goat cheese salads back when most Northern California restaurants felt like Chez Panisse cover bands, or the roasted marrow bones during the whole-beast craze inspired by British chef Fergus Henderson. I’ve had enough molten chocolate cakes to know they owe a debt to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s chocolate Valhrona cake, first served at JoJo in New York City in 1987. And I do think of David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, which opened clear back in 2004, any time I see a new upscale ramen joint or a pork bun food truck.