Dishes of Happiness, Chef Daniel Patterson on Taste, Smell and Memories

I had originally planned to interview Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi Restaurant in San Francisco on November 13 during the Alchemy of Taste and Smell event. All the prep he had to do that day did not leave time for Daniel to sit down with us. He managed to squeeze our short interview in this first week of December.

It landed in our mailbox a few hours ago. Let's serve it while it's still fresh.


Q: Daniel, if you were not in your restaurant cooking, experimenting, today, what would you be doing?

Spending time with family and friends.

Q: Where is your oasis, your retreat?


Q: The 'Alchemy of Taste' event in New York was about taste and smell, what place has memory in our food choices?

One of the most profound lessons for me when I started working with Mandy Aftel, the perfumer with whom I wrote a book, was the physiological connection between taste, smell, emotion and memory. Our sense of smell is the only sense that goes directly to our nervous system, and connects with what we feel and remember. So we are powerfully drawn to tastes and smells that are linked to positive experiences.

Q: We order a dish we liked a lot and have not had in a while and end up being disappointed. Is it because that specific food was associated with a place? Can memory play tricks on us?

Was that a traditional dish that you had on the coast of Amalfi while on the best vacation of your life? And then you had it in a NYC restaurant and you were disappointed? For example? Then yes, absolutely, the way that the specific taste and smell of that dish, which you associated with a happy time, becomes a trigger for a happy emotion, and its absence can create disappointment. So much of pleasure is about expectation fulfillment.

Q: Are ingredients your paint and the plate your canvas?


Q: In the fall season, name some of your favorite ingredients?

So many! Right now, a few are: wood sorrel, oxheart carrots, dungeness crabs, wild bay leaf, yuzu

Q: What is the share of local ingredients used in your kitchen?

100% of fresh ingredients. we use spices and dried items from elsewhere. San Francisco is a port town, after all.

Q: Besides Rene Redzepi are there other chefs you see as kindred spirits?

Well, I don't know about "kindred spirit", but I'm lucky to have some friends who are amazing cooks and who inspire me. In NYC, I would say David Chang, Daniel Humm and Wylie Dufresne.

Q: In your eyes what are the main differences between West Coast and East Coast food scenes and culture?

The cultures are very different and the ingredients are different, so the food would have to be different as well. I would cook very differently if I were on the East Coast. But both areas are great.

Q: How do you stay fresh?

Spending time in nature.

Thanks for your time, Daniel.

As a Bonus, Daniel gave us his 10 Do's and Don'ts on San Francisco. We will probably publish them on Saturday next week.

(* photo of Daniel foraging for pine needles from Cook it Raw on Phaidon Agenda)

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