Side Bar: Traci Des Jardins and the Closing of Jardinière

This morning, I read the New York Times article “Jardinière, a Pioneer of High-End Dining and Design in San Francisco, Will Close” with the subhead “The chef Traci Des Jardins says she’s ‘tired of fine dining’ and wants to focus on Mexican food.” I felt a little blue and a sort of melancholy stuck with me throughout the day.

I first experienced Chef Des Jardins culinary prowess at Rubicon in San Francisco in the mid-90s. Rubicon was Drew Nieporent’s first foray into the bay area and Des Jardins won the James Beard award for Best Rising Chef. I was new to the area and was taken by her dishes grounded in French tradition and incorporating fresh California flavors.

In fact, she was the reason I bought this cookbook called “Great Women Chefs” published in 1996.  I still have it. Check out the old-timey cover.

Book cover to Great Women Chefs: Marvelous Meals & Innovative Recipes from the Stars of American Cuisine with an introduction by Alice Waters

I tried my hand at her recipes and made the apple tarts for practically every dinner party I had for several years.

Traci Des Jardins is the first chef profiled in the book

I knew she was pivoting towards Mexican cuisine with the opening of her other restaurants. I spend a lot of time perusing recipes when I make a new dish and was pleasantly surprised when I came across her recipe for carnitas tacos. Search over. I found my recipe.

Des Jardins, for me, was unique in her standing amongst the male chefs of her time. She helmed a fine dining restaurant that was successful, though to be frank, I had a sense that her male peers received more backing and started to build their empires.  

And while I respect the move away from a white linen dining experience as I know that I myself seek out those kind of restaurants less and less, I feel remorseful.  Why can restaurateurs like Danny Meyers or chefs like David Chang and Tom Colicchio have high/low places but not someone as talented as Traci Des Jardins?