Inside the California Food Revolution

Inside the California Food Revolution

Thirty years that changed our culinary consciousness

Written by Joyce Goldstein

“Joyce Goldstein is the foremost expert on the watershed moment in American cooking when little-known ingredients began to shine and chefs came out of the kitchen. The California revolution created the foundation for the food personalities and flavors that we see globally today. This book tells the story better than any other.” Mario Batali, chef & author of Molto Italiano

Featured: Rochelle Huppin

Chefwear, Santa Monica & VeniceĀ 

(pages 167-168)

Rochelle Huppin trained as a pastry chef. At her first job, she was handed a pair of polyester pants made for men. She had to get them sized large to fit her hips, but that meant that the waist was far too big. The fiber felt terrible on her skin, so she got a note from a doctor saying that she was allergic to synthetics and made her first set of custom cotton pants. After working at the Hotel Bel-Air and then at Citrus with Michael Richard , Rochelle moved to Marin County in 1988 to open the Lark Creek Inn with Bradley Ogden. There she created the prototype baggy unisex chef pants. They had a three-inch-wide elastic waistband for comfort and tapered legs so dirt could not collect on the hems as she walked through the kitchen.

When Wolfgang Puck hired her to work at Spago, the pastry department uniform was white pants and a white jacket, both made out of polyester. Rochelle designed a pair of striped black-and-white cotton pants and started her clothing business by strategically handing out six pairs to big-name chefs. “I gave Wolfgang a pair, because I was working for him. I gave a pair to Bobby Flay, who was a friend back then, a pair to Jonathan Waxman, and then three other chefs who were working for Wolfgang at the time. When I was in New York with Wolfgang at Rockefeller Center doing a Meals on Wheels event, Linda Zimmerman wrote a little article for the LA Times, and there’s a picture of the pants and a blurb about how the pastry chef didn’t like the [old] pants and now makes them herself. There were 175 phone calls the first day”

Rochelle was surprised to find that she had hit a nerve and that she wasn’t the only one who hated the traditional chef;s uniform. Two conditions helped her new business, Chefwear, grow. First, the open kitchen put cooks on display, and they wanted to look cool. Second, more women were becoming chefs, and they needed pants and jackets that were made to fit their bodies. Rochelle’s chef pants production was an underground business at first. “I had a little white Pontiac Fiero, and after working a twelve-hour shift at Spago. I would drive around in my little car with a very small trunk. I would go to Campanile and to all these places, wherever people had called me. I had five-hundred pairs of pants made and sold them very, very quickly.”

In food magazines at the time, uniforms were publicized in tiny eighth-of-a-page black-and-white ad’s showing a tall paper hat on a chef- noticeable only if you were looking for them. In marketing her Chefwear line, Rochelle wanted to do something different. “I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and my dad always said, ‘Don’t be afraid to spend money on advertising.’ So I took thirteen chefs, put them in front of Chinois on Main with [my] first line of clothing, everyone barefoot, and did a full-color, full-page in Food Arts. And boom, it got attention right out of the box because there wasn’t anything like that.”

The business grew rapidly. At first, people called them “clown pants,” but that soon changed. Rochelle believes that her brand of stylish and unconventional clothes helped lift chefs out of blue-collar jobs to become celebrities.