Once there was a poor little rich boy. The documentary “Jeremiah Tower – The Last Magnificent” holds us in touch with the childhood of the chef credited with launching “California Cuisine” to stardom.
The child was unloved – it’s probably fair to say neglected -- but with benefits. The child toured the world, including grand hotels and luxury ocean liners. The adult describes that such immersion “made me immediately fall in love with first class.” In his fated realm, food served as his best friend.
Jeremiah Tower considered menus as something that offers its own language. Through and beyond his Harvard years, he studied this language. His extraordinary potential wandered without direction for several years until he fell into an opportunity with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame.
In the 1970s, that Berkeley restaurant’s fame didn’t kick in until Jeremiah Tower added his knowledgeable, however inexperienced, flare. Innovative and cultivated energy ensued. It was a sexy environment (literally and attitudinally) until irreconcilable differences caused Tower to pack up and leave.
Besides promoting the use of local farmers and enticing edible artworks, Jeremiah Tower promoted himself, promoted the open kitchen, the visible chef. His stylish brand thrived in a ripe San Francisco meeting place for celebrity. At Stars, a restaurant world wholly designed and run by him, he reached his height.
The film tries a bit too hard to be as stylish as the man it showcases. While effective and appropriate, the art of the filmmaking feels a bit forced. This includes the recurrent flashback mechanism.
That said, this documentary sustains its appeal because Jeremiah Tower’s unfolding life and charms continually keep your interests piqued, not the least of which are the tantalizing displays of food, food making, and dining atmosphere. Besides the psychological aspect of the child who became the man, the story interlaces the counterpoint of Tower’s disappearance, for almost 20 years, from everything and everyone.
The subtitle of the film, “The Last Magnificent,” serves the aura well. Whatever few things such a descriptor might mean, it captures why Jeremiah Tower captures our attention.