New California Cuisine

Among other themes and restaurant labels an interview with the chef de cuisine of New California Cuisine…


New California Cuisine is a new approach to regional cooking. It’s not a disguise, or hiding facts under a fancy name. New California Cuisine is international food cooked right here on the premises. It is as diverse as the population in California.

(…and other themes and restaurant labels)
There is an abundance of restaurants in every tourist town. Not just to be different, but to let the guest know in advance what they are in for, restaurant owners label their restaurants in any, to them the business owners, suitable way. Some labels are more precise than others. The following are the labels used on the Monterey Peninsula:

AMERICAN CUISINE stands here for anything cooked in America.

BAKERY/DELI usually describes, “We bake and sell our baked goods on our premises.”

BBQ, most likely advertises ribs, but can include hamburgers, chicken and sausages.

BRAZILIAN, that’s food from Brazil, with a zest for life, often a combination of Portuguese, Italian and African cooking.

BISTRO style stays for casual restaurants. But watch out for waiters who wear long aprons, these can easy be a French restaurant. The wording bistro stands for anything from American over Oriental to Italian food and it’s good to check the menu first.

CAJUN/ CREOLE restaurant suggests spicy food.

CALIFORNIA CUISINE! You might ask what is such and let me assure you “You are not alone!”

While working at a restaurant, titled New California Cuisine, I receive daily inquiries from potential customers who simply ask: “What is California cuisine?” I talk with the chef who explains that California cuisine once indicated regional dishes only. Today looking at any typical California restaurant offering California cuisine we find shrimp from Mexico, lamb from New Zealand. The Mahi-Mahi is from Hawaii. The salmon depending on the season was caught in Alaska or Norway. The seabass is from Chile. The couscous is flown in from North-Africa. The escargots are shipped in from France, olives from Greece, safran from Spain and caviar from Russia.

The menu includes crab cakes made from Alaskan snow crab and imitation crab meat. The chef defends his recipe with: “Just a moment! Bare with me! There is nothing wrong with imitation crab.” He lectures me: “These aren’t East Coast crab cakes but California style crab cakes.”
I dig to get a specific answer. I want to know what the chef means with California Cuisine. After a lengthy explaining that the concept was created by the owners not him, he gives me his definition: New California Cuisine is a new approach to regional cooking. It’s not a disguise, or hiding facts under a fancy name. New California Cuisine is international food cooked right here on the premises. It is as diverse as the population in California.
California Cuisine is not bound by one certain group of menu-items, it represents a little of everything. It includes Italian style pasta dishes, Spanish gaspacho, French flageolet beans, local and imported fish. There are also light experimental sauces made with mango and other exotic fruits. We do not serve the old-fashioned heavy butter and egg yolk sauces, unless requested. But we offer Soya and ginger sauces, saffron vinaigrettes and a variety of coulis. And he goes into the details: “We use vegetables and salads from the region which include both Napa and Chinese cabbage. We also use turnips for many dishes. The Enoki and oyster mushrooms are from Watsonville. Herbs are grown just outside the kitchen’s backdoor and mixed with the various imported spices.”
I look at the chef with a question mark on my face and get my answer, the one I had been searching for, when he says: “New California Cuisine is as varied as the people we find here.” In length the chef talks about the employees who are French, Spanish, German, Mexican, British and what else people. He ends it with: “That’s what California is about! Variety! That’s what my cooking is about! Variety!”

CARIBBEAN must mean Caribbean.

COFFEE SHOP is most likely a place were various types of coffee are sold and some offer a small menu of sandwiches, salads or baked goods too.

CONTINENTAL used to be foreign food, sometimes it does resemble European style cooking.

CHINESE, that’s the type of food we all can afford, any time, any place. In some Chinese restaurants they still use chop sticks and you might have to ask for a fork and knife.

ECLECTIC food might be Greek, might not. Before you look into the dictionary, call first to find out.

ENGLISH FOOD can be a hint for fish and chips, pies, afternoon tea and scones, but doesn’t have to. Therefor better call first.

ETHNIC food is another broad theme, it can suggest little or large selections of anything. Definitely call before going.

EUROPEAN cuisine stands for any type of food, which could be typical to Europe without a clear idea as to a specific country of origin.

EURO – ASIAN is a broad theme. It can be a mixture of everything not exclusing Australian, American or African food items.

FAST FOOD should equal food served fast.

FRENCH CUISINE is like a code implying high prices. It doesn’t guarantee typical French dishes or a French owner or chef. It does not even imply that the French language is spoken on the premises.

GERMAN restaurants can be Hofbrauhaus style self service or regional German or Austrian cooking with Schnitzel and Spaetzle.

GREEK restaurants usually serve Greek food.

HOFBRAU can specify a German style but often is not.

INDIAN kitchen states Indian food from India.

INTERNATIONAL food can mean anything and often it’s very good.

ITALIAN stays for moderate prices. Some Italian restaurants specialize in pasta, others in veal. There are at least three Italian styles: The northern Italian food compares much to international European and French cooking. The middle part of Italy is known for its wide use of olive oil and lemon juice, little spice and great flavors. The southern part, the Sicilian kitchen is the spicier of the three.

JAPANESE restaurants provide food typical for Japan. Sticky rice and small servings of fish or meat are common. Often sushi bars, where experienced chefs prepare and serve raw fish are attached to the restaurant.

KOREAN food is what it says: Korean, which is neither Japanese nor Chinese. They too serve sticky rice with their meat or fish dishes. They also offer a variety of Kim-chee to add zest to the meal, for my taste Korean food is the way to go.

MEXICAN restaurants in America are most likely to serve Mexican style food. Some offer various combinations of American versions which one cannot find anyplace in Mexico.

NEW CALIFORNIA CUISINE, see California cuisine.

PIZZA is what it says namely pizza.

SEAFOOD stands for a restaurant specializing in seafood.

STEAKHOUSE means meat.

SUSHI BARS are usually attached to Japanese restaurants.

THAI FOOD tells us that Thai food is served.

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT leaves no question open, that’s were they don’t offer meat.


by helmut schonwalder