Head to Tail Cooking in California

  California cuisine is known for fresh and local farm to table cooking. Given the bounty of wonderful ingredients the region produces, it’s no wonder chefs can serve so many diverse and delicious dishes using just what’s around them. The desire for sustainable farming practices has led to people choosing to be less wasteful about butchering practices as well. The things people used to throw away are now on display; I’m talking about offal. Along with artichoke hearts and artisan breads, you can find beef hearts and sweetbreads popping up on west coast menus; and it’s getting a lot of attention. The use of offal in American cooking is not new in of itself. We see offal in traditional Southern cooking and foie gras and pâté have long been acceptable fine dining offal offerings, but still many parts have gone underused and underappreciated. Getting Americans to eat animal brains, intestines, hooves, skin and tongue is challenging; they make a lot of people squeamish. Chefs in California are trying to break the offal stigma by making it a regular part of fine dining menus and serving a variety of new dishes with animal bits many people haven’t seen or tasted before. The head to tail eating trend, as many call it, is not just about using traditional ingredients for different cuisines that call for them; it is about being sustainable, conscientious and respectful of animals used for food. It’s about opening people’s minds and giving people a new perspective on how people eat and how they prepare food.

            Chris Cosentino is California’s offal champion. His uses his blog, Offal Good, to educate chefs and offal fans about how to get offal, how to cook it, and any other issues related to the topic. He features photos and videos different ingredients not often found on menus like turkey lungs and goose intestines. As the son of a butcher, he has adopted the philosophy of cooking from head to tail and not wasting any parts of animals.  His restaurant, Incanto, describes their reasons for their approach to cooking as a desire to “leave the world better off for future generations and because food tastes better when its ingredients are the product of thoughtful stewardship.” In addition to the benefits to future generations, it’s fun to have a menu that’s new and fresh. I mean, what could be more appropriate than beef heart tartar to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Another restaurant that’s getting media attention for their use of offal is Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles. The LA Times claims that “Animal has become the most influential restaurant in Los Angeles, the one where visiting chefs go when they have time for only one dinner in town.” Veal brains with vadouvan and pig ear, chili, lime, and fried egg are some items found on their menu, which changes daily. Another offal supporter is Jay Porter’s more laid back restaurant, The Linkery. His biggest hit is the “confit of calve’s tongue served as the ‘stuffing’ for open-face ravioli, cleverly dressed with cherries and a sprinkling of nut-brown butter.” Socially responsible foodies can take pleasure in these mouthwatering creations knowing they are supporting less wasteful practices.

Culinary professionals can have a significant impact on how people grow food and how animals are raised and slaughtered. The agriculture industry will respond to what restaurants demand. This happened in California when Alice waters started working with local farmers to get fresh, seasonal and local ingredients for her restaurant; she revolutionized how people think of food. Head to tail eating is the next step in sustainable food practices; consistent with California’s food philosophy. As an aspiring chef, this is significant. It is inspiring to know that as a chef I can change how people think and help break food stereotypes.

Head to tail eating is a step toward changing the way Americans think about food and the movement to respect food more. In addition to the social and environmental benefits, if this is the direction the food industry is heading, there may be financial benefit as well. If a business can provide something special that the people want, with limited competition; they will be extremely successful and profitable. Offal is featured on several television shows, it’s popping up in restaurants all over the country and the public is taking an interest. If offal momentum continues, culinarians need to know how to prepare this food effectively so they can serve people what they’re looking for. Guests can satisfy their curiosity and chefs can create memorable dining experiences—everyone wins.

California cuisine has always maintained the philosophy that food is an important resource and should be treated respectfully. Using all parts of a slaughtered animal is one way to respect food and restaurants have started challenging their customers to think differently about animal parts that they used to throw away. Offal chefs are successfully bringing innovative ideas and new dishes to California cuisine. I think these ideals are the right philosophy for chefs to adopt and hopefully this is not just a trend, but a new way of thinking and eating for America.

Works Cited

Gold, Jonathan. "Los Angeles." Los Angeles News, Events, Restaurants, Music LA Weekly. 11 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2011. http://www.laweekly.com/content/printVersion/1115038/

Nelson, David. "The Offal Truth - San Diego Magazine - September 2008 - San Diego, California." San Diego Magazine - San Diego Restaurants, Events, Photos, The Best of San Diego. Sept. 2008. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.


"Our Approach." Incanto - About Us. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.


Nenes, Michael F.  American Regional Cuisine. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2007. Print.