JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT is a character exploration of the legendary chef – and the enigmatic mystery of his genius. Tower says he was compelled to create beauty – ‘to keep the darkness at bay’ – and layers of his personal story are intimately revealed through his own deeply self-aware remembrances.
Throughout a lonely childhood, Tower entertained himself through food – first, as a gourmand and developing connoisseur of the fancy cruises and exotic restaurants his family frequented during luxury travels, and later, through his own culinary explorations and connecting with the kitchen staff when he was left alone by his parents. After completing architectural design studies at Harvard, Tower landed at Chez Panisse in 1972, the year after Alice Waters opened the now-legendary Berkley bistro.
The match of Tower and Waters seemed fated. It was also complicated. During an era that valued European epicureanism, both Tower and Waters were passionately committed to artisanal food and culinary experimentation – and served as mutual muses. Tower was given free rein at Chez Panisse and rose to the role of executive chef, playing an integral role in establishing its reputation. Tower convinced the venerated and powerful James Beard to review Chez Panisse – rocketing it into a rare echelon of restaurants whose lauded reputations command waiting lists for reservations and deliver tony patrons who sometimes even flew in on private jets to dine on its famed cuisine.
The two chefs’ competing profiles and passions – Waters’ commitment to French cuisine and Tower’s growing interest in experimenting with an American haute cuisine menu – were perhaps destined for a combustible apex. In 1985 Tower famously left Chez Panisse and planted his own flag with the opening of his Stars restaurant in San Francisco. Stars became the birthplace of ‘nouvelle cuisine’ or ‘California cuisine,’ a revolutionary, elegant, unapologetic celebration of distinctly American culture.
Stars was a complete game changer – and Jeremiah Tower was both chef and superstar celebrity. Hollywood stars, politicos, and scions and socialites of the elite came calling. In its heyday, Stars was among the most profitable restaurants in America – and spawned fêted satellite restaurants in Napa Valley, Manila, and Singapore. Stars also launched and influenced the careers of other eminent chefs including Mark Franz, Mario Batali, Emily Luchetti, and Brendan Walsh, several of whom reminisce about Stars and Tower for The Last Magnificent. But then, suddenly, after a decade and a half at the top of the restaurant world, Tower’s empire crumbled – and he disappeared to what many viewed as a self-imposed exile.
In 2014, Tower re-emerged in the most unlikely of places: New York City’s fabled but troubled Tavern on the Green restaurant. Director Lydia Tenaglia weaves a beautiful, poignant, universally accessible study of the longings and triumphs of the very large life of a gifted yet lonely artist.
Interspersed among re-enacted portrayals of the bygone elegance of Tower’s youth, are moving interviews with Tower’s contemporaries and others – and, the sumptuous, mesmerizing beauty of Tower’s food creations. Jeremiah Tower: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT illuminates some of the mysteries and the demons that drive the passions familiar to anyone who has ever imagined themselves an artist. Executive produced by Anthony Bourdain.