It’s hard to know where to begin—David Tanis, world-class chef; David Tanis, author; David Tanis, will ’o the wisp. In fact, you can meet all three—taste his menu, read his book and watch him wander into the sunset when he continues his nationwide book tour to promote his new Heart of the Artichoke and other Kitchen Journeys (Artisan).
The introduction to Tanis’ earlier A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes describes his nomadic youth—farming, working in kitchens, always drawn to food and finally landing at Alice Waters’ fledgling Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. There, Tanis earned his stripes over seven years and, following an opportunity in New Mexico, became executive chef at Brian Knox’s Café Escalera in Santa Fe. Living in Santa Fe at the time, I happily put away Escalera’s oyster po’boy with killer aioli on more than one occasion. But, despite an award-winning wine list and kudos as Zagat’s Best New Mexico Restaurant, Escalera finally closed and Tanis returned to Chez Panisse.
“I was sad to leave New Mexico actually,” Tanis tells me from Berkeley, “but the economic climate wasn’t really right. It’s a tricky thing to keep a restaurant afloat.”
Waters suddenly found herself with two chefs—Tanis and Jean-Pierre Moullé—sharing her downstairs restaurant. In a quirk of genius, she agreed that they could swap their jobs every six months. Moullé goes home to his native France when he’s off the schedule. Tanis and his partner Randal Breski (also maître d’ at Chez Panisse) spend their six months away in a 17th-century apartment on Paris’ Left Bank. There, at their home, Tanis and Breski host a dining club called Aux Chiens Lunatiques (At the Mad Dogs' Place). Every so often, a few patrons convene over prix fixe meals with the best local ingredients Paris has to offer. Tanis gets to do what he loves best.
“I’d much rather cook at home than cook in the restaurant,” says Tanis. “My life in California is very structured and I’m working all the time. It’s nice to have a little down time.”
There’s no down time on a book tour, and Tanis will be doing more than signing when he visits. Heart of the Artichoke is one of the finest cookbooks I’ve seen. Beautifully designed, it’s generous with color photos by Christopher Hirsheimer, menus and friendly essays such as “Esteeming the Chile Pepper.” Tanis cooks close to the soul of his food. Simple ingredients—well chosen, in season and locally grown—are the mainstay of his menus. And, as with many chefs at the top of their craft, he does not waste food.
“I’m interested in the lesser cuts, and in stews. I’m a big tripe fan. Offal is coming back into vogue among a lot of younger chefs. But it’s still hard to get people to eat it in a restaurant. It’s really too hard,” Tanis laughs.
The Artichoke Café (424 Central SE) will serve dishes from Tanis’ new book at a celebrity chef dinner hosted by Bookworks on Monday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. Admission is $75 per person, or $115 per couple, and includes the meal, wine, one autographed copy of Heart of the Artichoke and tax (but not tip). You can purchase tickets at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW) and at bkwrks.