Patterson’s culinary philosophy is perhaps best summed up by his controversial 2005 article in the New York Times, 'To The Moon, Alice?', in which he expresses his frustration with the lack of innovation on the San Francisco culinary scene. ‘Alice’ refers to Alice Waters, founder of the legendary Chez Panisse, considered by many to be the birthplace of California cuisine. Opened in 1971, Chez Panisse offered simple, authentic dishes, made with quality local ingredients, in stark contrast to an establishment that used flamboyant techniques to disguise lacklustre ingredients.
Fast forward thirty years, and Waters had gained almost mythical stature among Bay Area chefs, all of whom were devoted disciples of the Chez Panisse method. In his article, Patterson praised the focus on quality ingredients, but also felt that being overly wedded to authenticity had stifled creativity in California cuisine. Instead, he advocated a cuisine that marries both quality ingredients and creativity, citing chefs like Thomas Keller and David Kinch as examples of what can be achieved.
Little surprise, then, that the cuisine on offer in Patterson’s flagship restaurant Coi evinces that same fusion of quality ingredients and technique. Emotion and imagination are important themes, and the sense of place evoked by the unique local ingredients, rather than being an end in itself, is incorporated into something larger that plays with ideas about emotional connection and sensory experience.
In the 2020 Michelin Guide, Coi’s tasting menu is praised for its ‘clear originality’ that ‘elevates even the most basic of ingredients and allows them to shine.’ Simple, seasonal flavours are given the haute cuisine treatment, creating dishes like cherry tomatoes in strawberry juice with fennel pollen, or kombu-cured fluke with fermented black bean sauce. Patterson’s ingenuity is also used to celebrate locally-caught fish with a dish of smoked black cod wrapped in scallop mousse, while the experience is brought to a close with frozen lime marshmallow and coal-toasted meringue on a lime ice.
For an insight into Patterson’s maverick approach to elevating simple ingredients, you need look no further than his recipe for scrambled eggs. His top tip? Scramble your eggs in boiling water.