Calling New York's food scene "predictable" in the July issue of GQ, food critic Alan Richman praises the scene in San Francisco as "the most exciting movement in American dining right now." (The article is bizarrely not online yet, but his 10 Best Dishes in San Francisco listicle is.) Richman opens with, "New York hasn't had much of a century once you get past David Chang," obviously trolling for attention. He continues:
These days, ambition among promising chefs is defined as campaigning to get on Top Chef. Our new restaurants seem to specialize in big-butt Italian cooking, big-bucks burgers, white-trash southern cooking, non-pizzaiolo pizza, and formulaic empire-building. Let me tell you how desperate things have gotten: Chefs are coming down from Montreal to teach us New Yorkers how to eat, and they're doing a good job of it. It's not utterly hopeless. Paul Liebrandt (molecular gastronomy), April Bloomfield (haute British pub food), and Cesar Ramirez (classy Brooklyn counter food) are notable chefs of these times. So is Daniel Humm, who cooks French, but he came here after making his mark in San Francisco. That fact would surprise me a few years back, but it doesn't any more, not after I figured out what was happening out there. At each moment in history, there's a city or region that chefs have to visit to learn what's going on in American cooking. Usually it's New York, but I've known it to be Chicago, southern Florida, Texas, and Los Angeles. Right now it's San Francisco, where restaurants of ambition and imagination are opening. Something else is happening: A brand-new Northern California cuisine is coming to life.
Chefs and restaurants throughout the Bay Area that Richman praises include Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food), Thomas McNaughton (Flour + Water), Teague Moriarty (Sons & Daughters), Jason Fox (Commonwealth), Corey Lee (Benu), Kim Alter (Plate Shop), and Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn). And David Kinch (Manresa). Said Fox, "It all starts with David Kinch. I worship at the temple of David Kinch."
And a lot of this new movement is a response to Alice Waters (Moriarty calls it a "backlash"). Kinch told GQ, "Five years ago, chefs were still copying Alice, afraid to break out of her shadow, still grilling pork chops. They were familiar with vegetables but didn't know what to do with them. We're all indebted to Alice. Her message was ingredients and simplicity, and everybody did it to a fault.... What I am seeing is California cuisine coming into the twenty-first century..."
Said Thomas McNaughton, "For so long the school of though has been 'Here is a beautiful turnip; why do anything to change it?' Now we are saying, 'Here is a beautiful turnip with layers of flavor. I can develop it in different ways.'"
The July issue of GQ is on newsstands now.