The progenitor of today’s love affair with food sassed his sultry soup with cannabis stems and seeds in the ‘60s, demonstrating an understanding of ingredients and effects.
BY ED MURRIETA
Jeremiah Tower, America’s first and long-lost celebrity chef, is a cannabis-cuisine pioneer.
But you won’t learn that from watching “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” the fawning documentary film about the life, times, milestones and mysteries of the patrician progenitor of California’s 1970s culinary awakening who reigned over the rebirth of American gastronomy at the peak of the greed-is-good 1980s and retreated from the spotlight before the new millennium.
Raised abroad by wealthy absentee parents and weaned in cruise ships, hotels and boarding schools, Tower enthralled the Bay Area’s foodie elite and social cream with his impeccable palate, worldly glamour and handsome appetites for sex, cocaine and champagne, first at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and then at Stars in San Francisco. Lacking formal culinary training but brimming with brio, Tower splashed fresh, local ingredients with classic elan and dramatic sass. He burst from the kitchen into the dining room, popularizing the American brasserie and charming Americans into a love affair with food.
While America’s foodie cognoscenti — Martha Stewart, Ruth Reichl, Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain — gush about Tower’s theatric rise and fall, his enigmatic exile and his enduring importance in the culinary pantheon, “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” contains nary a mention of the pre-fame cannabis cuisine Tower cooked to entertain friends and stick it to The Man at Harvard University in the 1960s, which Tower himself addressed in his 2004 memoir, “California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution.”
Reviews upon the book’s publication focused largely on Tower’s influence on California Cuisine and American regional cooking; his tempestuous relationship with Alice Waters, Tower’s former boss, lover and rival; and the personal and professional burnout that sent Tower into self-imposed exile in Mexico two decades ago.
But those reviews overlooked Tower’s contribution to cannabis cuisine: an infused consomme whose preparation and serving demonstrated the chef’s respect of his ingredients, including both their preparation and effects, and care for the people who enjoy his food.
Not only did Tower lay out the technique of heat-activating non-psychoactive THCA into psychoactive THC prior to steeping cannabis in fatty chicken stock (a vital step neglected by many, even Batali, who botched pot brownies last year), Tower deliberately front-loaded his infamous 1969 cannabis menu with an infused course whose effects kicked in as dessert was served, enhancing the enjoyment of the meal without debilitating diners.
And Tower did it with stems and seeds in an era before fancy full-flower extracts, fulfilling a chef’s highest calling: turning lowly ingredients into haute creations.