Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is the story of controversial restaurateur, Jeremiah Tower; his early life, his rise and fall, his restaurants, and his impact on the food business. In short, he changed the way we eat. And he paved the way for restaurants to become works of art, with chefs as superstars.
Director Lydia Tenaglia calls it, “the portrait of an artist with food as his canvas.” And what a glorious canvas it is. Tower grew up in rare privilege, traveling around the world in first class accommodations, but with parents who provided very little warmth or support. Vintage film and stunningly shot re-enactments bring this era magically to life. Most of it looks like a dream world. But as Tower described it, “it was an exercise in overindulgence and lack of love.” His mother was an alcoholic. His father was barely there. And he admits that it was actually shame that started his cooking career.
But those early years were also formative. For him, food became a metaphor for culture and beauty. It took him to Harvard in the 60’s (where he cooked mini-masterpieces on a student budget); to Chez Panisse in the 70’s and a wonderful, if fractious, relationship with owner Alice Waters; and on to launch the infamous “Stars” in 1984, which shone bright until 1998, after which Jeremiah virtually disappeared from the scene.
But those who followed in his footsteps remain; and provide the on-going narrative for the film. They are a wonderful cast of characters and a virtual who’s who of chefs, writers, and restaurateurs, including Ruth Reichl, Mario Batali, Martha Stewart, Jonathan Waxman, and Wolfgang Puck.
Anthony Bourdain got involved in the making of the documentary after he read Tower’s memoire, California Dish. He said he was outraged when he realized he had been cooking dishes that were influenced by the chef’s work without even knowing it. He felt that Tower had been left out of the culinary revolution and he wanted to “correct the record.” With Lydia Tenaglia (who created CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and PBS’ The Mind of a Chef), he has.
Charming, difficult, funny, sexy, and outrageous, Tower was and is one of a kind, a perfectionist who marches to his own drum. Despite his shortcomings, Tenaglia says she wants you to fall in love with him. And it’s not hard to do just that.
By the way, the name on his Chef’s jacket says it all …The Last Magnificent.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent
November 12th at 9 p.m.