Why restaurant chefs in London, Paris love California food
California-inspired restaurants and cuisine are blooming across the Atlantic. In London alone, several California chefs have planted roots in the last year. European cooks are also embracing California cuisine in their own ways by combining it with local tastes.
The Times spoke to cooks and restaurant owners in several European cities to get their takes on how California is influencing the food world.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What is “California” when it comes to food?
Californian food is an ethos. It’s a philosophy. It’s about less butter, less cream, using produce only when it’s in season. It’s about lighter sauces, lighter preparations. It’s about delicate touch on things. It’s about bold, in-your-face flavors, but also balancing that with subtlety.
– Victor Garvey, owner and chef of SOLA Soho, a California-inspired tasting menu restaurant in London
California cuisine is the fluidity of cultures. Los Angeles has such an amazing amount of people coming from all over that have brought all of their secrets and passions for the food they grew up with. It’s not defined by one specific spice or type of food.
California cuisine is incredibly produce-driven. The access to produce year around is just breathtaking. In Los Angeles, I also learned a lot about fermentation and how to preserve foods. Even though you get access to beautiful produce year round, you might want the tartness of an unripe strawberry in November. How do you capture that moment?
– Mailea Weger, formerly of Gjusta in Venice, was the chef of Echo, a California-inspired cafe in Paris. She recently opened a pop-up with California and Southern influences in Paris at the Hôtel Grand Amour.
When I think of California, I think of healthy, good lifestyle food. Protein-rich, creative and delicious. But then, of course, also classic fast food, like In-N-Out’s burger, which I absolutely love.
– Pete Szymik, co-owner of Heppy Green in Frankfurt, Germany
Fresh, local and seasonal ingredients that are simply prepared to promote those ingredients — not to mask them.
– Nancy Silverton, co-owner of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles and Newport Beach as well as Osteria Mozza, Mozza2Go and chi SPACCA in Los Angeles. Pizzeria Mozza recently opened in London while Osteria Mozza recently launched in Singapore.
As the late, great Jonathan Gold pointed out, L.A is the anti-melting pot. It has distinct communities that have food traditions that are true and traditional that are un-messed with. I always thought it was an interesting take.
There is also a feeling or mood or sensibility that is beyond food-specific. It’s so many things. It’s the proximity to the ocean. It’s the surf and skate culture. It’s the movie history. It’s Hollywood.
– Kris Yenbamroong, owner and chef of Night + Market restaurants in L.A. He also has a pop-up called Chet’s open in London, which will move to a permanent location in the city by the end of 2022.
Over the years, certain areas of American cuisine have been driven by produce and terroir.
Britain has moved forward and has started really embracing outdoor style cookery with the increase in fire pits, use of coals and BBQ. It’s a skill set and flavor profile that has been honed to perfection in the USA, and many British chefs look to the U.S. for inspiration.
– Tom Kerridge, British chef and owner of several restaurants, including the Hand and Flowers, an upscale pub in Marlow, U.K.
It all goes back to two iconic restaurants: Spago in Los Angeles and Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Wolfgang Puck had and still has restaurants all over the world that can truly be called California cuisine.
– S. Irene Virbila, former restaurant critic for The Times
The U.S. and U.K. have this innate love and obsession for one another. We have shops here that sell exclusively American food. Shops from the U.S. that come here have a head-start. There is just a love of American restaurants and products in the U.K.
– Jesse Burgess and Will Warr, creators of Top Jaw, a popular London-based food series on YouTube
I love the color. All the light you have. It’s very bright. There’s an energy in L.A. To me, the food scene in Los Angeles is better than Miami and New York.
In Paris you have to spend a lot of money to eat well. The corner bistros are not great. Everything is frozen. Not very good products. Not very good cooks. Sure, you can go to some very fine bistros that will have amazing food, of course. But that is harder to find.
In L.A., I have a great lunch and dinner every day.
– Guillaume Guedj, founder of Mr. T, a bistro in Paris. He moved to Los Angeles and will open his first location of Mr. T outside France in Hollywood this summer.
What attracts you to California cuisine?
There is a growing demand for healthy, responsible and sustainable cuisine. This is even more true since the COVID-19 pandemic. People are more and more attracted to knowing what is in their plates and the sustainability of the ingredients.
As a chef, I deliver a sustainable cuisine that highlights the work of producers. A cuisine that puts the emphasis on raw products. It corresponds well with the idea of a Californian restaurant.
– Chef Nicolas Pastot of Montecito, which opened in Paris in 2021
I’ve had so many holidays in California. I love the California way. The palm trees, the sunshine, the people, the food. Everything about California is so, so nice.
So I decided to name my place California Bean. I just wanted to bring a California feeling — something light, something cool — into Germany.
– Evelyn Mueller, owner of California Bean in Munich. The restaurant serves pancakes, sandwiches and burgers inspired by Mueller’s travels to California.
In 2017, we decided to create something completely different from what was being offered in Slovenia at that time. We noticed that California already had a richly developed healthy food scene, so we decided we have to make something in that spirit.
Slovenian food is known to be heavy, based on potato dishes and meats. Knowing that California has a culture that is also influenced by Hawaii, we looked into what kind of foods are popular in both states. We took inspiration from that and added our own twist.
Since we’ve started opening franchises, our long term goal is to someday have a Tink Superfood restaurant open in California.
– Tina Rakus, cofounder of Tink Superfood in Ljubljana, Slovenia
In Italy, we have amazing food and are very attached to our tradition. But, especially in some big cities, people have become very curious about new tastes and new experiences.
Fancytoast has a California vibe — happiness and dynamism inspired by the West Coast. Focused on the concept of stuffed open toast, Fancytoast pays attention to details as San Francisco and L.A. bakeries do. People and taste first is our motto.
– Federica Sala, co-founder of Fancytoast, a restaurant in Milan offering its own take on avocado toast and more
In terms of produce, L.A. and California are second to none. I remember coming to L.A., and the produce was just mind-blowing. Why would you go anywhere else? Why would you need to fly things across the world if you’ve got this at your doorstep? Just the abundance was breathtaking.
But good food and good produce is not something that originates anywhere. It belongs everywhere to everybody. You can find that cuisine wherever you go.
– Jonathan Woolway, chef director at St. John in London, which had plans to open a Culver City location before the pandemic.