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