Chef Patterson strives for regional uniqueness

NEW YORK Tue Sep 21, 2010 10:25pm BST

Daniel Patterson is seen in a handout photo. REUTERS/Michelle Hood/Handout

Daniel Patterson is seen in a handout photo.

Credit: Reuters/Michelle Hood/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - American chef Daniel Patterson strives to create unique dishes that showcase the local California ingredients at his two Michelin-star restaurant Coi in San Francisco.

The self-taught chef will demonstrate his cuisine at Le Grand Fooding on Friday and Saturday. The second New York edition of the food festival which originated in France is billed as a friendly competition between New York and San Francisco chefs.

Patterson, 41, spoke to Reuters about his brand of local cuisine and the need for more variety among restaurants.

Q: Do you think there are many differences between the cuisines in New York and San Francisco?

A: "Of course there is. There should be differences in the cuisines between any regions, right? I think the ingredient versus technique argument has been played out. Both areas are too homogenous and can benefit from more diversity.

"In New York there are a lot of great cooks and there is a lot of great cooking and great restaurants. Keep in mind you can't really compare the two cities. Ingredients are different and New York is ten times the size of San Francisco.

"No one is going to question its resources, depth, breadth ... You see a lot of the same ingredients and techniques cycled through. It's true of anywhere. I don't think the question is New York versus San Francisco, but it's now versus the future. I think New York can do better. San Francisco can do better."

Q: So you think restaurants are a bit homogenous?

A: "San Francisco largely uses these other cultures, where you find a lot of Italian, French and Asian. They are emerging with some distinctiveness but that's going to take time.

"New York is a very cosmopolitan city. Sometimes the restaurant there could be a restaurant in any city. Maybe they could have more regional distinctiveness. I actually think that David Chang's food is incredibly expressive of an American style of cooking with his Korean background. He lived in the South and cooks in New York. He is creating food that is really delicious and interesting and grounded in his own experiences."

Q: How does Coi reflect your point of view?

A: "We are very concerned about a cuisine of place and imagination. Place means we only deal with products in our area so no imported caviar or truffles. It's very plant-based cooking. We do a lot of foraging. We use a lot of wild ingredients because we want to deal with flavors which are unique in our area. We want to make food that people can connect to emotionally."

Q: Whose responsibility is it for more variety, diners or chefs?

A: "Before we opened, there was no particular indication that San Francisco wanted or needed the restaurant doing what we are doing. But it turned out we have been extremely successful. We are pretty much busy all the time. We were pretty busy during the downturn, and we are at a very high price point. Clearly what we are doing strikes a cord with people here. All you can do is to be honest and do something you believe in. If it's right for the place, people will support it. The way we cook may totally be wrong in Des Moines, New Orleans or even New York."

Q: So you wouldn't open a branch of Coi in Las Vegas?

A: "It's a big mall. It's soulless. That's not interesting to me."

Recipe

Eggplant soup (serves 6 to 8)

2 1/2 pounds Japanese eggplant

8 cups vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground

1/2 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

1/4 cup fruity olive oil, plus more for cooking eggplant

sherry vinegar to taste

lemon juice to taste

salt

1. Lightly oil eggplant and roast in cast iron pans with olive oil and salt until tender.

2. Remove and discard skins, and scoop out flesh. Combine with vegetable stock, cumin, coriander, chili flake and salt. Simmer for 25 minutes. Cool.

3. Puree eggplant in a blender with olive oil, and season with lemon juice, sherry vinegar and salt to taste. Thin with water if necessary. Chill for at least 2 hours. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cilantro, basil or mint.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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