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.