So far, a father of California cuisine really likes what he sees in America's Farm-to-Fork Capital.
"Sacramento is the epicenter of food," said Jeremiah Tower, who will helm the 2018 Tower Bridge Dinner.
At his first official event to promote this year's Farm-to-Fork celebration, Tower worked the room at the Crest Theatre on Monday night much like he did back in his days at Chez Panisse and Stars.
Dressed in a classic double-breasted navy blazer over well-worn jeans, the original celebrity chef posed for photos and exchanged quips with old friends and former patrons who came from throughout Northern California to hear him on opening night of the Sacramento Food Film Festival. With a mischievous smile, Tower easily fielded questions from Amber Stott, founder of the Food Literacy Center, before the screening of the CNN Films documentary on his life, "The Last Magnificent." Almost 800 guests turned out for the screening.
"Keep it simple," Tower said of his rules to cook by. "That's something all chefs should remember."
Sacramento found the right culinary star to pump new enthusiasm into its marquee culinary event, said Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento, which oversees Farm-to-Fork festivities.
"Now, a lot of chefs are calling - 'Do you have a role for me?'" Testa added. "That's part of what's wonderful about this event: getting people together. (The chefs) are all competitive, but it's still a family industry where everybody knows each other. Because of who (Tower) is, they all want to have a piece."
Tickets will go on sale for the Sept. 30 gala dinner later this summer with more details (including price) to come, Testa said.
Out of the California spotlight for almost two decades, Tower has been living and writing in Mexico. When the dinner's steering committee discussed a celebrity chef for the Bridge Dinner, Tower was the only candidate seriously considered, Testa said. "The idea of an outside chef was not welcomed. But then, we mentioned Jeremiah Tower.
"He said 'no' four, five times," he added. "But we kept after him."
Tower wanted certain assurances, Testa continued. "He needed to have a team under him that was skilled."
Also, where do you cook a gourmet dinner for 800 to be served on a highway perched above a river?" (Chef) Michael Tuohy called him and they talked about the state-of-the-art kitchen at Golden 1 Center," Testa added.
Slowly, Tower was convinced.
"He created this (food) movement," Testa said. "He saw what's happening here and now he's thrilled to be here."
Said Tower, "How could I not say yes?"
At the Crest Theatre event, Tower introduced his team of local chefs: Ed Roehr (Magpie), Ravin Patel (Selland Group), Kathi Riley Smith (Oak Cafe, American River College culinary program) and Brad Cecchi (Canon). They needed no cajoling to be part of Tower's crew.
"It really helps when you lead (the invitation) with 'Jeremiah Tower is going to be part of it,'" Testa said.
"They're a great group," Tower said.
Patel, who has been part of the Bridge Dinner since its inception five years ago, said he was looking forward to "amazing collaborations."
"I think we are all really excited to get to work with Jeremiah Tower," added Roehr, another Bridge Dinner veteran. "Having a strong outsider edit and coordinate our collaboration should make it stronger. Somebody has to wear the tallest hat and make sure that what we are doing speaks with one voice. It's awesome that it's going to be someone like Tower. I'm hoping to learn and to share."
This week, the chefs team met with Tower to discuss ingredients and start planning a menu.
"Jeremiah is such a nice guy," Testa said. "He said, 'Tell me what you want and I'll do it.' He was asking the chefs for their opinions, recommendations; he didn't dictate anything. This dinner will be a true collaboration."
Hinting that heirloom beans, prawns and caviar may be ingredients, Tower concurred.
"I asked the chefs (about) their favorite things," Tower said. "What are the very best things coming out of the fields of Sacramento in late September? That's the menu!"