Jeremiah Tower on Being One of the World’s First Celebrity Chefs
The poster for the upcoming biopic Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent features a golden fork with one prong upraised like a gilded middle finger. It suits him: The chef who is often touted as America’s first real celebrity chef has also been one of the most controversial chefs in history and has ruffled quite a few feathers on the road to culinary fame.
We spoke to chef Tower about the upcoming movie, which was produced by Anthony Bourdain and features Tower’s alleged feud with his colleague Alice Waters and his decision to come out of retirement to “help” the ill-fated Tavern on the Green, which fared no better with his hands at the helm.
The Daily Meal: How do you feel about the finished product of the film?
Jeremiah Tower: It was a very strange for me to watch it the first time, but it’s a very good movie and the public has had a fantastic response to it. It doesn’t really matter what I think.
Do you feel comfortable with the title ‘celebrity chef’ and do you consider yourself one?
A celebrity chef is someone who gets a lot of publicity whether they deserve it or not. At one point, Time Magazine said “Jeremiah Tower had more publicity than Meryl Streep.” Their point was: You expect this from a movie star but how come a chef gets this much publicity? That was the turning point, I think.
What does it mean to be magnificent in the world of food?
It’s a slightly embarrassing title for me. I don’t call myself magnificent. I am sure I am not. I wouldn’t claim to be the last either. … I always thought of myself as a cook. I did the celebrity chef thing and built it up in order to fulfill my restaurant dreams. I rode that tiger to fill up the restaurants. Someone’s gotta pay the bills, and it worked.
How would you describe your relationship with Anthony Bourdain?
Anthony is one of the most intelligent, articulate people I have ever met; I like him a lot, and I like him even more now that’s he said so many wonderful things about me.
What about Alice Waters?
You know, it’s fine. I went to the 40th birthday and we sat together just the two of us and had dinner. Also I just asked her to moderate one of the Q&A sessions when it shows in Berkley, so we really don’t hate each other or anything.
Are you going back into retirement or can we expect any more surprises like Tavern on the Green from you?
I have a new book, Start the Fire, that just came out, and I really want to build a public speaking career. I did one in Vegas in January and got a standing ovation, and I said to myself, “Well, this is the way to see the world and talk.” Speaking about mainly hospitality and how success is created.
Who would you cook a meal for alive or dead?
I wouldn't mind cooking again for James Beard. Once I cooked him a sea urchin soufflé. I made a soufflé inside the urchin shell and he was just bowled over. After that he became my biggest promoter. I had never cooked anything like that before, but it clearly worked. I have always said that I have a fatal attraction to the slim chance, and that’s a soufflé.