Newport, R.I. — On a sunny terrace, overlooking a wide expanse of green that sweeps down to the ocean, East Coast food writers were recently served luncheon here in the California style, cooked on outdoor grills on the lawn of the Astor mansion, Beechwood.
An impressive place, Beechwood was once the summer palace of Mrs. William Astor, the leader of New York's ''400,'' and later that of her son, Col. John Jacob Astor.
It is a splendid spot for outdoor cooking or grilling, and Chef Jeremiah Tower and his assistants gave a colorful demonstration of the way his grilling differs from the outdoor cooking synonomous with California for many years.
But there are other things than grilling that make the Tower touch different and rather magical. Some could be called typical of a new California or American cuisine, but mainly they're just great ideas and techniques that work - that result in food that tastes good and has a wonderful flavor.
Mr. Tower talked with the press as he sliced a coiled sausage hot from the grill and offered it with toothpicks, along with a relish made of green tomatilloes, the small husk tomato often used in Mexican salsa.
He emphasizes fresh, local ingredients, unusual flavor combinations, and carefully timed cooking. He likes and uses many marinades, but his food never relies on sauces.
''One reason French restaurants are so good is that small farms supply them with the very best quality of everything,'' he said.
''Here, we have often sacrificed quality for shipping ability, but now we're finding farms that raise goats just for milk for the cheese and small farms that will raise geese and other poultry.
''We've always been lacking in that kind of grower, but not now. In fact, we may surpass many of the European countries where interest in the old, time-consuming professions is dying out.
''That's what this new American cooking is all about - quality and freshness, ''he said.
The luncheon he produced at Beechwood was a ''tasting'' lunch extravaganza, using native foods mixed with seasonings and flavors from many ethnic cuisines. He was assisted by Oksana Czuczman and Steven Vranian.
On each table, as centerpiece, a large white platter was piled high with grilled vegetables - giant-size red peppers, deep-purple eggplant, and huge white onions cooked with the long green stem attached.
First we were served mussels, clams, shrimp and crayfish that had been quickly grilled after bunches of herbs had been tossed on the coals.
Then came Grilled Fennel Root and Sweet Red Bell Peppers that had been marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs along with Grilled Pork Loin With Santa Fe Chili Marinade and Grilled Mussels and Oysters.
As we were eating, wonderful aromas of herbs and spicy, smoky food would waft over the tables from the grills.
The next course included Scallops With Orange and Ginger en Brochette, Sturgeon With Garlic Butter, Trout With Fresh Tomato Salsa, Pacific Snapper With Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce, and Snow Peas and Red Peppers.
Just reading through a Tower menu can make your own cooking seem pretty routine, but it also can give you some new ideas .
Here's a listing of the third course at this luncheon: Grilled Chicken Breast Paillard With Cumin, Lime, and Cilantro Butter Grilled Duck Leg With a Curly Endive and Walnut Salad Grilled Smoked Duck Leg With Lemon-Pepper Butter Grilled Truffled Squab With Fresh Watercress Grilled Veal Chop With Roasted Garlic Cloves Grilled Pork Chop With Fresh Pear-Cranberry Chutney.
Next came Grilled California Goat Cheese Wrapped in Grape Leaves, followed by a Warm Tropical Fruit Compote With Ice Cream.
Although there are many new young chefs in California, Jeremiah Tower stands out as one who has put his stamp on much of the good cooking in that state today.
He has influenced and trained many young chefs who now have their own restaurants, and he has created menus at several restaurants where he has worked or been a consultant.
With a masters degree in architecture but no formal food training, he began cooking at Chez Panisse in Berkeley as a partner with Alice Waters and others. He became known there for his revolutionary concept of menu planning.
His menus, which changed daily from 1972 to 1978, gave the restaurant its reputation for ambitious experimentation and exploration.
Tower also worked in London on the first books of the Time-Life series ''Good Cooks'' with Richard Olney, and he wrote the latest book in the series, ''Outdoor Cooking.''
Other recent projects include the restyling of the Balboa Cafe in San Francisco, where he is a consultant; he is co-owner and chef at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill in Berkeley.
Tower not only cooked luncheon at Newport, but he was one of several people who spoke at a two-day symposium on innovations in food cooking, styling, and presentation, sponsored by Ocean Spray Cranberries.
Guy Savoy, owner of Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris and a newly opened restaurant of the same name in Greenwich, Conn. prepared a beautiful formal dinner in the evening in the Astor ballroom.
Other speakers at the two-day meeting were Dieter Hannig, director of the Food Research Center of Hilton International; Ferdinand E. Metz, president of the Culinary Institute America and Justin Rashid, owner of American Spoon Foods in Petosky, Mich.
Also Stanley Sacharow, packaging expert at Pacquet Onedia Inc. in Clifton, N.J.; Dr. Sarah Short, professor of nutrition at Syracuse University; and Michael Zimmerman, a kitchen computer consultant.
Here are some grilling tips and a recipe from Chef Jeremiah Tower:
When grilling, it is important to use proper charcoal, wood coal, or fruitwood.
The best kinds of charcoal are mesquite or hickory, not briquettes.
The secret of grilling fish is to have the fire very hot so that fish won't stick to grill.
When grilling meat, the fire should be a little cooler so it doesn't toughen the meat, but not so cool that you don't sear the meat.
Jeremiah likes to throw a handful of fresh herbs on the fire just before removing the meat so the herb flavor permeates the meat.He also likes to tie up a bunch of fresh herbs like a pastry brush to brush marinade on the meat as it cooks. Grilled Cranberry Lamb With Cranberry Relish 1 loin of lamb, fat trimmed, about 6 pounds 2 cups fresh cranberries, pureed and sieved 4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 teaspoon pepper Relish: 2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped 1 tablespoon chopped, peeled gingerroot 1 serrano chili, seeded, chopped 3 naval oranges, peeled, sectioned Grated rind of 2 oranges 1/4 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon salt
Combine and mix marinade ingredients in bowl. In another bowl mix all sauce ingredients. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour to blend flavors.
Spread lamb with marinade and let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Scrape off marinade and sprinkle lamb on all sides with salt.
Place lamb on charcoal grill 8 inches above gray coals and grill about 15 minutes on each side, or until medium-rare and pink. Let rest 15 minutes, then carve lengthwise along the bone. Serve sliced, topped with cranberry chili sauce. Serve with your favorite grilled vegetables. Serves 6.