Zuni Cafe approached me from three directions.
Stephanie Anderson, former proprietress of the Quaker House on Nantucket, told me about Judy and Zuni when I worked for her. Stephanie tried to coach me on making an omelet the Zuni way (I made a scramble. Repeatedly).
Stephanie gave me a glimpse into Judy’s methods by telling me that some dishes sprung from Judy’s afternoon dreams, and she’d come into the restaurant and say, “that quail looks good, but” -shaking the plate to rearrange the quail– “this is what I want.”
But to read the Zuni cookbook–the second direction I had–is to enjoy and absorb a didactic, disciplined master class. Judy’s methods didn’t spring fully formed from dreams; they were learned at the foot of the Troisgros brothers. It’s the only cookbook from which I’ve ever photocopied pages for my own cooks. Inspirational.
The third direction is my wife, Elizabeth. We met on a blind date, and I used to go visit her in SF on my days off. Our ne plus ultra in those days was Zuni brunch on Sunday, and I’ve yet to taste a better Bloody Mary (tie with the Jared Coffin House on Nantucket).
There’s an ineffable but visceral effect still available at Zuni. Watch the flotsam and jetesam on Market Street, drink a Bloody Mary or three and wait 40 minutes for the roasted chicken salad . . . you’re hooked into California Cuisine 1.0, from which I and many others sprung.