Hors d'oeurve Soupe Poisson Viande Entre Salade Dessert Fromage

Lisa Bertelsen
Lisa B
THE BEST FOOD, in my opinion, is that which tells a story -- specifically, the story of its creators. For this reason, I love reading the introductions of cookbooks. Who inspired the chef? What influenced him? Where did she travel? The story is what makes a good dish. I am less interested in exotic ingredients. I don't like the posturing of sculpted vegetables, foamy sauces, or an intimidating "tower" of food precariously toppling off the plate. Food is good if it is natural and without pretense. But it is sublime if it is very personal, with a story on the side.

So I take this meal very personally -- in the best sense of the word. The backdrop of each dish I owe to my home -- Northern California. The dishes are varied and somewhat eclectic -- paying tribute to the influence of Chinese, Japanese and Italian immigrants. Many of the ingredients I've chosen are indigenous to the Bay Area -- scallops, pistachio, bay laurel, rosemary and the wine of the Sonoma and Napa valleys.

Why a website, you ask? Granted, the web is not an obvious (or some would even say, logical) medium in which to tell this story. How can something as sterile as a browser convey color, texture, taste and aroma? Well, it cannot, just as a book cannot. But as imperfect as it is, I chose the web quite intentionally, because I've spent the past 8 years immersed in one's and zero's, working as a developer. So you see, it is a familiar playground.

But I wasn't always a developer. I am a good listener and can, if given sufficient amounts of caffeine, meet any kind of deadline. I can also string sentences together, sometimes with clarity. So in 1992, I started writing, and for several years worked as a magazine writer and editor. The personality quirk that most writers share is an insatiable curiosity. When I started building these recipes, I had lots of questions about the ingredients I was considering -- their properties, how they are manufactured, and who grows them. To better understand what I was doing, I sought out these growers and producers. The people whom I've interviewed play an indirect, although significant role in the creation of this meal -- like Ghaus Malik, a physician and almond grower in the San Joaquin Valley, or Sue Conley and former Chez Panisse chef Peggy Smith, whose creamery in Tomales Bay produces some of the most exquisite artisanal cheese you are ever likely to taste. And, of course, the longest "interview" has been with the most patient of subjects -- chefs Sixto, Dominick, Pascal, Heather and Daphne.

So these dishes are an extension of many people and, if successful, credit must be shared with all of them. Disasters belong squarely at my feet. Either way, this food is an expression of a particular group of people, a place, a time, and a unique procession of experiences. Hopefully the story will be a good one.

Bon Appetit.