History of California Cuisine
Updated: Jan 28
The year is 1982. Across the country, in New York City, modern cuisine and fine dining have been defined as 'New French', 'Nouvelle Cuisine'; Small, intricate presentations. Exotic, expensive ingredients. Opulence.
Little did anyone know, a culinary revolution was brewing on the opposing coast. A movement, at this time, that was already a decade in the making. A new way of thinking about food that will impact the culinary world for generations. This is the history of California Cuisine.
All during the 70's and early 80's California was innovating internally. Chefs were pulling from local and historical influences to express their new menus.
Spanish Colonization. Mexican Territories. Asian Immigration. Agriculture
These are the foundational pillars of California Cuisine. Allowing for a totally unique approach to flavor, ingredients and preparation.
Spain's early colonization of the territory plays a key role in California's cuisine development. Traditions brought from the Mediterranean to the West Coast have become instrumental in shaping the regions iconic ingredients and cooking techniques. Grapes for wine and olives for oil are just two of the many examples of Spain's influence. Not to mention the fresh, light and health conscious inspiration coming from the Mediterranean Diet.
Mexico and California
Once Mexico gained independence from Spain and were able to reclaim the territory, we see new influences being added to California's culinary landscape. Mexican ingredients thrived in the California sun; chilies, avocados, tomatoes, tropical fruits and citrus. Agriculture boomed in fertile regions while ranching thrived in others.
Asia comes to America
California has the largest Asian American population. Immigrants have blessed these shores with ancestry tracing back to China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. All of these inspiring food cultures merged with the existing culinary practices and ingredients. Over time, these clever combinations became something completely unique and totally California. Apart from the combination and melding of flavors, California has been instrumental in introducing and promoting the authenticity of these Asian cuisines. Giving rise and acceptance of both the fusion and traditional.
The Chefs Behind the Movement
There are many chefs that have helped launch California into the culinary stratosphere, but two have been given the title of 'pioneer'; Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Wolfgang Puck of Spago.
Alice Waters was a rule breaker. Chez Panisse, her Berkeley restaurant, moved away from the complex preparations and expensive avant-garde ingredients popular in the 70's and 80's. The focus was on local ingredients and partnerships with farmers and small artisans in the community. The menu is, was, simple, letting the ingredients shine. The abundance of agriculture left room for seasonal exploration, introducing the rest of the US (and the world) to ingredients either unknown or under-utilized; artichokes, avocados, figs, arugula, crest and chard. Also giving a new center-plate focus, vegetables. We have Waters to thank for the modern surge of locavorism, heirloom awareness, sustainability activism and organic farming movements.
Fusion is Favored
We may think of the term "fusion", today, as played out, overly used in the 80's and 90's and totally saturating the industry...we couldn't be further from the truth. Fusion has just become the norm, a melding of cuisine types so common today that we've just grown accustomed. In it's infancy, fusion was the brainchild of Wolfgang Puck. Puck would cruise the busy multicultural streets of LA and absorb it all, return to his kitchen and produce meals combining these diverse flavors. Chef simply showed California and the world what was already occurring and had occurred over centuries. The melding of influences.
Explore California Cuisine from Near or Far
It's true, you don't have to travel far to experience the influence California has had on our modern cuisine. For culinary explorers looking to bring the traditions and flavors of California into their home, Gil's Gourmet provides a one stop shop.
All of the ingredients and pantry staples available at our online store show our love for all things California.