Food & Wine Epicure

by Food & Wine Epicure, October 13, 2011

For far too many years, primarily  thanks to movies and reality T.V., the  Los Angeles dining scene has been  lumped into two categories: sproutsloving  and celeb-drenched. And, really, we have  plenty of restaurants to support those claims. But  today, L.A. is seen as a new culinary mecca, and as  a magnet for the best and brightest culinary talent  from around the country. For the food-obsessed,  this is exactly where everyone wants to be.  It wasn’t much different 30 years ago, when  places like Michael’s, Spago and Patina we’re at  the forefront of a new culinary world order. These  restaurants helped launch the careers of many of  today’s celebrity chefs: When Jonathan Waxman,  Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton wanted to find  their footing in the kitchen, they went to work for  Michael McCarty and Wolfgang Puck, two of the  most innovative chefs and restaurateurs of their  time. Along with Northern Californian chefs like  Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters, the combined  group would shape what soon became known  as “California cuisine.”And it spread through the  country like wildfire.  We have a lush restaurant family tree in Los  Angeles, where the culinary lineage can be traced  from the patriarchs and matriarchs like McCarty,  Puck, Silverton and Joachim Splichal directly to  the stars of our dining scene today. Think of it  this way: If it weren’t for Michael’s, we might not  have Sang Yoon’s Father’s Office. Or if not for  Spago, maybe Campanile wouldn’t have come  to be, which would mean no Mozza, and then no  Spice Table, Bryant Ng’s Singaporean-Vietnamese  restaurant downtown. As different as they are,  they’re all inextricably tied together.  One restaurant that played an important role in  the genesis of how we eat now—here and across  the country—is Michael’s, McCarty’s eponymous  Santa Monica spot that debuted in 1979.  “Back then, if you asked anyone what the best  restaurant was in town, you would’ve been told  a classic French restaurant like L’Ermitage,” says  McCarty. “And if you wanted to cook, the rule of  thumb was Escoffier, which meant no variation of  theme, no regional concept, no farm-to-table. I  wanted to change that.”  McCarty and his opening chefs—Jonathan  Waxman, Ken Frank and Mark Peel among  them—used classic techniques they picked up  in European kitchens and culinary schools, and  introduced fresh, locally raised produce to the  menus. It was the beginning of a food revolution.