With a new S.F. restaurant and book in tow, it’s peak season for Daniel Patterson.
Staring at an impeccably crafted beet rose with rose petal ice, you’ve got to wonder: Where does Daniel Patterson land? Who is this chef and food writer? After all, his flagship restaurant, Coi (kwa), ranks #58 on San Pellegrino/Acqua Panna’s “World’s 100 Best” list. The tasting menu is a cool $175. In addition to a string of James Beard accolades and awards, the man with the self-described polyglot palate co-authored a 2004 book with Berkeley perfumer Mandy Aftel about essential oils in food. In the global community, he was one of 11 pioneering participants in avant-garde foraging congress Cook it Raw, alongside Noma’s René Redzepi and Le Chateaubriand’s Iñaki Aizpitarte.
Stateside, there’s the Daniel Patterson Group: the pristine Coi in North Beach; the more casual Plum and Plum Bar in Oakland; Haven in Jack London Square; and the forthcoming Alta CA, set to open this month on Market Street. (The latter’s name hearkens back to Mark Twain’s Golden State newspaper column.)
That said, start reading his new book. Coi: Stories and Recipes is, first and foremost, a tale about finding one’s soul in the kitchen. Here’s a fellow from Massachusetts who moved to California in 1989, and with just a few years of experience under his belt opened Babette’s in Sonoma, followed by Elisabeth Daniel in 2000. His revelatory moment with food came in the wake of his mother-in-law’s passing: “I remembered, after so many years of producing fancy restaurant food, what it meant to cook for someone. It was then that I began to think about the restaurant that would become Coi.” The tiny place he opened in 2006 was a gustatory distillation of local ingredients and culture, all modern, all served on handmade pottery.
Coi is Phaidon to the core—a functional art book, the debut title by an American chef for the high-design British publisher (Noma, A Day at elBulli might ring a bell). Patterson’s bountiful traipse through California landscapes also catalogues the restaurant’s dishes from 2006 through 2012. There are, of course, recipes—measurements listed near the index; detailed methods on-page requiring tools like Cryovac and siphon. Barefoot Contessa, it is not. Patterson says it best: “Even I don’t cook like this on my days off!”
Recollections in the tome, from the truth behind olive oil to the perfection of wild fennel and fresh seaweed, provide honest analysis. He links how his house burning down at the age of four segued into foraging. That becomes inspiration for a plate of redwood tips, sprouted wheatberries and duck that he has aged for two weeks—technically profound and exacting.
Patterson doesn’t praise the overly lavish (“Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not how I cook”). Components may be hand-picked, seasonal and at times obscure, but Patterson’s world is not about making things difficult in vain. In the end, he doesn’t really belong in either S.F. culinary extreme. All he wants to do, he writes, is, “construct an extraordinary dish out of ordinary ingredients.” danielpattersongroup.com.
Written and Edited by Alison Clare Steingold
Photographed by Maren Caruso, phaidon.com