Local Legends

Jeremiah Tower Relocates to Italy, Loves Being Compared to Orson Welles

Photo: Jean Cazals/WSJ

The feud between one-time Chez Panisse chef Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters is legendary, and it was only after the two parted ways in 1978 that Tower went on to open his own restaurants, the Santa Fe Bar and Grill in Berkeley and ultimately Stars in San Francisco in 1984. Tower ended up helming an international empire of Stars restaurants, being one of the original celebrity chefs of the U.S., before declaring he was done with California and ultimately moving to Merida, Mexico where he’s been restoring old houses and SCUBA diving. A new piece in the Journal catches up with Tower in London, the jumping off point of a tour of some of Europe’s great restaurants in celebration of his 68th birthday. He reveals that he’s now done with Mexico, and will soon be relocating to Puglia, in southern Italy. “I need to be in a place with local markets where you can walk in and never know what’s going to be there,” he says.

The brief piece does a good job of capturing the chef’s notoriously big personality. Upon being called by the article’s author “the Orson Welles of the food world,” Tower is delighted. “Oh absolutely—what a wonderful idea! Far better than the previous description of me as an Edwardian Francophile,” he says.

An interesting sidenote that we hadn’t heard before: Tower lost his entire, 3,000 volume collection of historic cookbooks to Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans, which is what prompted his move to Mexico.

We’re sure both Alice and Jeremiah would like to claim credit for originating Chez Panisse’s focus on local ingredients and simple, Provençal-style preparations. However, Tower was always known for being a bit more of a showman with a flair for more elaborate, classic French cuisine while Alice has risen to prominence as Queen of the Locavores. Now, though, Tower sounds like he’s mellowed, and his advice for young chefs is much more basic. “It is more important to understand ‘Cuisine Grand-Mère’ [than classic tehcnique],” he says. “But no one has a grandmother that cooks any more. It really doesn’t matter if it is in France, Britain, Italy or Australia, the important thing is that it must be regional cooking grounded in the use of the very best local ingredients. Get that and you will understand about flavor.”

Reflections of a Towering Legend

Jeremiah Tower Relocates to Italy, Loves Being Compared to Orson Welles