The chef had a bad-boy beginning
Tower got his start cooking up luxury drama at Harvard, where he shocked his peers with Molotov cocktails made from Dom Pérignon bottles full of gasoline, Hermès scarves, and Tiffany bags; later, he fueled a cross-country road trip with mescaline and hash. After college, Tower declined an offer to write for The New Yorker and headed toward Hawaii to pursue his dream of creating aquatic architecture. Eventually, his wealthy family cut him off, he ran out of money, and, in 1972, with no culinary training, he answered Chez Panisse's ad seeking kitchen help in Berkeley, California.
The restaurant, once a hippie haven and still owned by the legendary Alice Waters, became destination dining when Tower shifted the menu in a classical French direction and championed locally sourced ingredients, which came to define modern California cuisine. "Did I ask them if they wanted to go that way? No," admits Tower in the documentary. "I was just doing what I had to do."
Tower left Chez Panisse in 1978; Waters published the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook four years later without crediting him as co-author, and she was celebrated as "the mother of American cooking." Although Tower went on to open Stars -- one of the nation's most influential restaurants, which popularized the concept of celebrity chefdom -- he eventually sold it and became a pariah.