Food is such a key part of what defines every culture, that when a holiday approaches, it takes on an increased significance for the diner. Eating can be glossed over during the rest of year, when business lunches are crammed into an hour, and sharing a meaningful meal takes a back seat to the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. But at Coi in San Francisco, chef-owner Daniel Patterson ponders his part in the grand scheme of things constantly, as “cooking, food is the way we connect to other people. It’s the way we connect to the world around us.”
This is particularly the case at Coi. A far cry from the traditional Easter lamb dishes of many cultures, their season-driven menu nonetheless reads as an ode to Spring. As a time of rebirth and renewal, Spring has clear ties to the celebration of Easter. Everything about Patterson’s food, from the locally foraged wood sorrel, to the locally farmed heirloom produce for which he is known, speaks to his connection to the land.
Although much of the produce cultivated in the US did not originate here, Patterson feels it has taken on its own characteristics that reflect the climate and soil and that today the produce of Northern California communicates a distinctive sense of place indicative of the region’s culinary identity. Taking a particular interest in the wild offerings of California, Patterson has conscientiously explored everything from Douglas fir tips and pine needles to seaweeds - with the help of a botanist, of course - all an effort to be, like his Oysters Rockefeller, “California Style.”
The Golden State’s climate is such that a myriad of ingredients are available come Spring, but Patterson goes a step further than the fennel fronds and ramps found on many menus at the first sign of the new season. Even a brief glance at a recent Coi menu reveals esoteric picks like cherry blossom and wild fennel shoots. The diner would be hard-pressed to avoid the feeling of discovery and deep sense of identity that the Coi team aims to provoke. After all, Patterson says, food is “one of the most primal ways that we understand who we are and where we fit into our culture.” Yet California cuisine as seen by Chef Patterson and Pastry Chef Bill Corbett, is not merely a pat recreation of American culinary traditions. It incorporates modern technology (the use of Combi-ovens, food whippers, and other newfangled equipment plays a role in many dishes), ingredients that are new to many California diners, and perhaps most importantly, new ideas that speak to the region. And California is listening.