Chez Panisse at Forty

Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary

Before I started working at Chez Panisse, way back in the early 1980s, I didn’t really know all that much about the restaurant. Prior to moving to California, I’d read an article about “California Cuisine” and of all the places listed, the chef of each one had either worked at this place called Chez Panisse or cited it as inspiration. So I’d picked up a copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which listed menus and the recipes featured in the restaurant.

As I read through the book over and over, I was intrigued by this place where people injected tangerine juice for multiple days into legs of lamb then spit-roasting the hindquarters so that those syrupy-sweet juices not only moistened the meat but caramelized the outside to a crackly finish. There were descriptions of salads of bitter greens drizzled with walnut oil that were topped with warm disks of goat cheese, which were made by a woman who lived an hour north of the restaurant and had her own goats.

Thinking about it now, I am sure that I’d had goat cheese on backpacking trips through Europe, but never really paid attention to it. But these fresh disks of California chèvre that oozed from the bready coating that were part of one of the menus in the books sure sounded pretty good. And a tart made of sliced almonds, baked in a buttery crust until toffee-like and firm, and meant to be eaten with your hands, along with tiny cups of strong coffee alongside. I kept that book on my nightstand for bedside reading for months.

The stories of each of these meals, back then, was a revolutionary idea. Yes, there were lofty French cookbooks regaling us with menus featuring aspics and crowned rack of lamb, each tip garnished with a small, ruffled turret of starched white paper. And there were American cookbooks that talked about foods from various parts of our expansive country and culture, with recipes to prepare them. But the idea of foraging around where you lived, finding the ingredients in your community, and presenting them simply (with permission to enjoy them along with hearty red wine) was something one might come across in a recounting of a French auberge, but not in American. After reading through that book, something told me that I had to go work in that restaurant.

I took a little bit of a detour before I arrived for my first shift at Chez Panisse, working in other restaurants after I arrived in San Francisco, my first time living in a big city. When my best friend and roommate from college came to visit me, we had dinner in the café and after a rather long wait (which gave us ‘permission’ to drink plenty of red wine ), we had a great time – and a great meal – which was exactly what eating out with friends should be. Because I was currently working in a very difficult restaurant situation, which made me dread going to work each day, after that meal, I was determined to find a way to work at Chez Panisse.

A duo of chefs had taken over the café upstairs from the restaurant and coached me before my all-important interview, which I somehow scored with Alice Waters, the owner of the restaurant. They said to me, “When she asks you what cookbooks you read, tell her “Richard Olney and Elizabeth David.” I was still working at the other restaurant at the time and never heard of either of those two people. I was busy coping with work and I think I may have stopped in a bookstore, glanced at a copy of Richard Olney’s Simple French Cooking, and then left, but I arrived at my interview not only not having read any of the books by either of those authors, but I barely had any idea who they were.

For the interview, we sat in the front of the restaurant, at the table closest to the front window, which is the farthest place from where the cooks were going about their tasks in the kitchen, preparing the evening dinner. One sturdy woman was holding the hindquarters of a large backside of a lamb and was separating the meat from the bones clutching a giant cleaver in her fist. I never saw anyone do that before and she looked up at me when I walked by her and said “Hi there”, then went back to butchering the lamb.

I later learned that Alice had to conduct interviews away from the point farthest from the kitchen because if she was anywhere near where the food was being prepared, it was impossible not to jump up and run into the kitchen to taste something, or ask (or advise) someone how they were going to prepare something. And she was not shy or hesitant to correct them if she felt something was wrong.

I don’t remember all that much about the interview but I was slightly terrified as this little woman shot questions at me about what I ate at home. “Popcorn and tortilla chips”, I told her, pleading my case that as a line cook I didn’t have time to shop, or eat at home. When that all-important moment came and she finally asked me what cookbooks I read, I was never good at lying, and blurted out, “The Joy of Cooking.”

To this day, I’m not sure what got me the job. (Although I am sure it wasn’t my trial shift, that started off with someone asking me to peel an enormous pile of pinky-size baby carrots, and when I finished an hour or so later and saw them dumped into a large pot to be pureed into soup – and said, incredulously “That’s what I peeled all those tiny carrots for?!”) But somehow, I was meant to be part of Chez Panisse and got the job.

I ended up working at the restaurant for thirteen years. When I started at the restaurant, few people in America – myself included – knew what arugula, blood oranges, green garlic, goat cheese, radicchio, heirloom tomatoes, or baby lettuce were. (Later I found out that Alice hired me because I said that my favorite food was salad, and washing the lettuce was her favorite part of working in the restaurant.) Many of these things were imported back then because they just weren’t available locally. But during my years at Chez Panisse, white peaches, fraises des bois, clementines, frisée, and French butter pears started appearing at the backdoor of the kitchen from locals that “…just happened to have a tree and heard that we were using them.” And just like us (and me), our guests were learning about all these things, like lamb didn’t necessarily come in shrink-wrapped packages. They were astonished for find out that radicchio wasn’t “red cabbage.” Nor did red wine have to come from France or Italy, but what could be found a few miles away rivaled what was available elsewhere.

After my first year at the restaurant, I migrated to the pastry department, which was located just next to the backdoor and we were the first to see everything that came in to the kitchen. Alice instructed everyone to just buy anything beautiful – and delicious: money was no consideration and we bought whatever was special that day then served it as soon as possible. It’s a pretty crazy way to run a restaurant, one that’s pretty unimaginable anywhere else. But we went with the flow, and somehow it all worked.

This month Chez Panisse turns forty and thinking about it, I worked there for one-third of the life of the restaurant. Two co-workers of mine had come to Paris a few months ago, separately, and since we were all in town at the same time, we decided to have dinner together. Back then, I was on the fence about going to the anniversary celebration. I’d planned to go when I got a message about it last winter, but then a trip to New York came up and I thought that two trips to the states in one month was too much for me. I’ve been particularly swamped with a few projects and all sorts of French paperwork that have been keeping me over-occupied, plus the idea of getting on a plane and heading halfway around the world wasn’t all that appealing. (Sticklers will likely point out that it’s not exactly halfway, but fourteen hours of flying certainly feels like it to me.)

When I saw my co-workers and friends, who I hadn’t seen in over ten years, we ordered a big plate of charcuterie, some cheese, and started with a chilled bottle of white wine from the Loire, it was like a single shift at the restaurant hadn’t passed between us. Sure, I had moved half-way around the world (nearly), one had retired from waiting tables, and the other ran a wine importing business, but the thing that I loved at Chez Panisse the most were not only the long-standing friendships and family that were created, but how they’ve endured and no matter what we do in our lives, or where we go, we’re all connected by being a part of the restaurant.

A few bottles of wine later, I was fairly sure that I didn’t have much of a choice but to head back for the anniversary events. And I was still on the fence a few days later when the real clincher arrived, along with my invitation, from the top:

invitation

As part of the pastry station, we had a marble that we used for rolling out pastry, which also made an impromptu place where friends could pull up a stool and dine with us. (Well, the ones that didn’t mind getting splashed with fish juice or leaving to find their backside dusted with flour.) Shortly before I left Chez Panisse, Alice was having dinner at the marble, but keeping an eye on the plates that the savory cooks were getting ready to go out into the dining room, while I was preparing desserts for the night. I don’t remember how the subject came up but I said to Alice, “You know, I’ve been working here for thirteen years, and I’m still afraid of you.” And she put down her wine glass, looked at me with her little brown eyes, smiled at me ever-so-slightly, and said — “Good.”

A lot has happened since I left in 1998, but many times when I heft a nectarine at the market and give it a good sniff for ripeness, or toss a bowl of bitter radicchio leaves with bits of chèvre and some blood orange slices and take a critical taste, wondering if it’s balanced correctly, or if my chocolate sauce going on my profiteroles needs to be more bitter, less sweet, I remember everything I learned working at Chez Panisse, especially getting it right. Indeed, the restaurant was – and still is – a vital part of who I am, no matter how often I see my friends and former co-workers, or where I live.

On the plane to San Francisco yesterday, the meal was mostly forgettable. (In their defense, it’s hard to be “local” when you’re 12,000 meters in the air.) I picked through my boneless skinless chicken breast and plastic-wrapped roll—just to be polite. But when I started in on the salad, rifling through the few leaves of lettuce in the plastic cup, which were just starting to brown at the edges, tucked in between those wilting leaves were little bits of radicchio, I looked around and everyone on the plane was eating them, as if nothing at all was unusual.


103 comments

  • You can buy these books at ecookbooks.com, too, and support independent booksellers. :)

  • A very heart-warming read…and glad to know that I’m not the only one who has cookbooks on the bedside table :) Have a great time in SF!

  • Bravo, David. Wonderful tribute… Have fun at the party.

    (The story of you walking into that kitchen for the first time is my favorite part of The Sweet Life…)

  • Such a lovely post! I was smiling the whole time I read it. I love the sense of camaraderie gained through working in a tightly run restaurant like Chez Panisse. Have a wonderful trip down memory lane!

  • What a wonderful tribute to the restaurant; thank you so much for sharing.

  • hi david – thanks for sharing such a lovely tribute. i was just thinking about the restaurant as i just baked fruit galettes from one of chez panisse cookbooks. i remember my first time going there (the cafe upstairs for lunch, not restaurant) nearly ten years ago from now, it was a highlight of my 3-day stay in san francisco – from making a reservation for one over the phone in my barely passable english and taking BART on my own and crossing the bridge and everything. i adored the place and have been back there once since, but still haven’t made it to the restaurant downstairs. i will one day.

    happy 40th to chez panisse – many happy returns!

  • David, thank you for this post. Who doesn’t love Chez Panisse? I feel lucky to say I’ve had more meals than I can count at Chez Panisse, and every trip back to the Bay Area includes a pilgrimage to the birthplace of California cuisine. Enjoy the party!

  • I loved the story of your interview and Alice’s response when you said you were scared of her.

    Enjoy the festivities! Being a CP alumni has its perks.

  • Jeez, you’re a good writer.

  • Great post! You probably dont remember this, but I vividly remember when you came to NYC after starting at Chez Panisse. We went to the old Dean & DeLuca, got some goat cheese (and jambon Bayonne, my contribution) – and you made my first chevre chaud salad

  • LOVED this story…and SO glad you decided to go. You surely would have regretted it otherwise.

  • Oh, what a great post. I loved the last paragraph. Chez Panisse has been such a huge influence on the culinary landscape in this country, even if most people don’t even know it!

    • It really is pretty amazing to see how many American food habits of changed, from all the upscale coffee places (I remember when you were lucky if you were traveling to get something other than instant coffee, or brewed Maxwell House) to supermarkets carrying organic and local produce, as well as the proliferation of farmer’s markets. The system isn’t perfect but as someone who grew up in the 60s-80s, the change is pretty dramatic, and welcome.

      When I arrived at San Francisco airport, it’s interesting to see fresh food being prepared – sushi, wood-fired pizzas, Mexican-spiced grilled chicken, etc…things you wouldn’t normally come across in an airport. So many people have really become more interested and astute..

  • I love your look back. I remember those days (in our restaurant in upstate NY) when anything other than iceberg lettuce seemed exotic. We ended up growing our own vegetables in a big garden, going to an egg farm for fresh eggs, and picking up milk in what would probably now be antique metal milk cans! The good old days :)

  • Welcome home. Enjoy every minute of your stay.

    I remember the first time I served my mother warmed goat cheese “that oozed from the bready coating”. It was over 30 years ago, I was still in school and had offered to make birthday lunch for Mom and her guests. Everything I brought to the table that day was a bit of a mystery to those ladies but they indulged me and tried everything … and loved it. Alice had inspired me then and she still does.

  • So sorry to be missing the 40th, but last year realized that it was not the time for me to go, just as you realized it was for you.

    Please drink a glass of Domaine du Tempier rosé for me.

    It’s going to be a good one. I hear the restaurant looks amazing with the walls up and down papered with past menus.

  • I went to CAL from 1979 to 1982(ended up graduating from UCLA) and it was there, living on the north side of campus that I discovered Chez Panisse. I had to put myself through school(pay for everything except medical insurance). I got a job as a nanny for the greatest family, ever. They lived on Milvia and in the mornings I would park my car at their house, then walk to school for classes, and then walk back just in time to greet the kids from their day at school. They had activities; hebrew school, guitar lessons, ballet,etc. Along with playing “school”, fixing snack, I also shuffled them to and fro. One of their lessons was near Chez Panisse. While waiting one day, I checked it out. At that moment I knew I had to eat at CP. I started saving. While my friends were drinking their lattes at Cafe Roma, eating their oversized yogurt from Yogurt Park, and eating slice after slice at Arenell Pizza – I stashed money away. And one day, I took myself, to the cafe, for lunch. That was a great day. I was 19 and I had always loved food, but it was here that I started to appreciate food.

    A few years back I read “Alice Waters and Chez Panisse” and all I really thought about while reading it was why the heck didn’t I persue a job at CP. Never even occured to me. Lucky you, David, for being part of such an incredible movement. What a gift you bestowed upon yourself in those 13 years at CP. Enjoy your reunion and the celebration!

  • This is such a beautiful read, and it is wonderful to learn about the significance of such a legendary restaurant from this personal angle. I am glad you were able to attend the celebration!

  • What a fantastic and inspiring story. I was living in L.A. at the same time as you were at Chez Panisse and was just thinking today how amazing it is that one restaurant could have such an influence on how and what people eat.

  • Thank you so much for sharing David. It is a wonderful story and I hope you have a wonderful trip!

  • I love Alice Waters and CP for the food culture she and the restaurant (and all the folks like you who have been involved with her and the restaurant) have created in the Bay Area, and beyond! It has now evolved to issues of food justice with her having created the edible school yard and mentoring, or being an inspiration to all of us food activists who understand the importance of not only eating locally, in season, and sustainably, but teaching others that message as well. Thanks for this write up, David. My heart swelled with pride for you and the restaurant when reading it. CP is truly an inspiration and a key part of the social-food movement that is taking place.

  • Lovely tribute to Chez Panisse. I Had the pleasure of eating there this summer. I am reading Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee right now in anticpation of getting my hands on Alice’s new book. Curious as to why you are not mentioned??? Just missed you in New York by one day, hope our paths cross in Paris in a few weeks! Enjoy drinking and dining with old friends what could be better. Suzan

    • There was (and are) a lot of people who worked at Chez Panisse; when I was there, there were around 130 people working in the restaurant and café. So over a span of 40 years, you can imagine how many folks through – although unlike most restaurants, people tend to stay at Chez Panisse for a number of years. So not everyone was included in that book.

  • David,
    loved it. Very moving and left me with a big smile. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Have fun.

  • Just beautiful. I remember eating at Chez Panisse for the first time soon after it opened. A French colleague in graduate school said the food was better than she remembered in France. At one period in my life when I traveled to the Bay Area regularly, I ate at the restaurant every chance I got. To those who have not had the Chez Panisse experience: Go!

  • I enjoyed this beautifully written tribute to Chez Panisse so much.THank you for sharing all the memories. I ate at the cafe one time and had the most simple and delicious meal with an out of this world plum galette for lunch. Maybe you made it! Enjoy the celebration and be happy for your part in its success!

  • I think I’ve read nearly everything you’ve written (well, the public stuff, anyway!) but this is by far my favorite. Thank you for this peek into your memories!

  • Thank you for this.

    Now, I am going to make something from my Chez Panisse cookbook today.

  • I think I will read this post again and again when my day needs more heart and less cynicism.

  • Wow! What a wonderful insight into what it must be like to work in a high quality restaurant, a world where ingredients are prized for flavour and freshness. I loved reading how this shaped you and your cooking.

  • This is the best thing I’ve ever read on your blog….truly from the heart. Having lived in Berkeley and now in Oakland (with a couple of spells in L.A., since the early 70s, I remember when Chez Pan. opened. It was famous locally from the very beginning.

    I remember also that my then husband and I missed a dinner party there because we’d gone to a wedding in the afternoon and had too much champagne. We came home and promptly fell asleep instead of getting dressed for dinner. Another couple of years went by before we ate dinner there. It has been a place for very special dinners in both the Cafe and downstairs.

    Most memorable dinner was one by candlelight when there was a power failure in Berkeley that lasted the whole time we were there.

  • Cher David, Bonjour, thank you for sharing this lovely tribute…. love it!
    I love when you told Alice: ” You know, I’ve been working here for thirteen years, and I’m still afraid of you.” And she put down her wine glass, looked at me with her little brown eyes, smiled at me ever-so-slightly, and said — “Good.” I can visualize completely the situation…both of you are amazing in this dialog.
    can I share my story? I went there for the first time August 2008 for lunch after I read ” Alice Waters and Chez Panisse” book.
    Can I share my story too? A friend or ours was running SF marathon and I saved for months in order to have lunch there with my kids ( 4 yrs old at this time), my husband our friends and their daughter. Even if it was only at the Cafe Bistro Chez Panisse it was a totally new experience for me.The atmosphere was unique and magical and the food really delicious. I wrote about the food and this experience on my blog…http://www.celinescuisine.com/?p=145 since I wanted to remember this day for ever I still kept the menu of the day !
    Madame Alice Waters is one of the most amazing, passionate and whole personage of our time, she must be a little French because she is stubborn.I guess you learned a lot from her you can survive and live well in France!

  • This is wonderful. I was friends with Marsha Gurrero years back, and she kindly set up a “kitchen dinner” for me one night. Alice joined us and shared photos from her recent trip to Spain. Such an important monument, go job making the effort to celebrate!

  • Great column today, David. I hope you have a great time at the celebration/reunion!

  • Brought back SOOOO many wonderful memories; must have seen you there — I didn’t know your connection to Chez Panisse when I first discovered your blog — which I loved immediately — and now I know why! Keep our mouths watering — Portland Maine is a far cry from the bay area or Paris, though we may be catching up. You should consider a trip here if you haven’t already been. Thanks for your wonderful writing, recipes, food talk and great pictures.

  • My eyes are misty reading your memories. I’m sure you and your old gang will pickup where you left off and have a great time. Luv ya.

    P.S. Make sure you give A.W. a cute little radicchio bouquet!

  • I’m going to be in SFO starting on 9/1 – meaning I miss your visit to Omnivore Books (which is a half-mile from the place I’m staying in Noe Valley) by two stinkin’ days! So sad. Any other appearances from the 1st through the 6th on the docket, perhaps?

  • Beautiful posts. And a wonderful reminder how great it is to be part of something special.

  • Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  • thank you for sharing david. i love hearing these types of stories. alice is a true inspiration.

  • For my birthday one year, my husband and I finally made the trip to Chez Panisse. It was without a doubt the most amazing lunch of my life. I was truly envious of the locals who eat there daily.

  • David, your life has been well lived! There are many adventures ahead of you. I’m a faithful blog reader of yours and this post was a particular delight. I met Alice Waters at an event early this year, her personality can only be described as “forbidding” but maybe that is necessary to enforce the quality of her vision. The Alice Waters alumni much like Balanchine’s alumni – spreading out across the world bringing quality and culture. Have a lovely visit to the Bay Area.

  • What a great story. I truly enjoyed reading it. Thanks for transporting me away from the work day. I’m thinking about having my birthday dinner at Chez Panisse this year. I hope it works out :)

  • Thank you David, a beautiful and touching post – just to second everybody’s thoughts.
    Now it’s time to make reservations to Chez Panisse :)

  • If you’re coming to the West Coast, David, please please please come to Portland sometime!

  • I just received The Sweet Life In Paris in the mail yesterday, and I finished the whole book by 4 AM! LOVED it.

  • Hi David,
    I am a student at the CIA right now and I am starting my externship at Chez Panisse!!!! in 2.5 weeks. I have been following your blog for some time now and I just wanted you to know that even though I am already unbelievably excited to work there, reading this just adds to my excitement!

  • Fabulous post! I’m so disappointed to no longer be living the bay area (moved to Phoenix in February) and missing all the wonderful food and restaurants and CP celebrations.

    Have a wonderful time! So glad you’re going back for the anniversary!

  • Such a lovely post! And this explains why I couldn’t get a reservation there this upcoming weekend! I’ll console myself with some Cheeseboard Pizza across the street instead…

    Will you be doing any sort of signings at all? I’m literally driving up to Berkeley this weekend from LA!! Had to ask as I think this will probably be the closest I’ll ever get to being in the same time zone as you!

  • Such a lovely tribute! I don’t think we realize how much what we eat today was influenced by Chez Panisse. Hope you have a wonderful time at the anniversary celebration.

  • Such a touching and heart warming post. i LOVE LOVE LOVE Chez Panisse, and it’s just so cool to hear about Alice Waters and what it was like to work there. you’ll have to post about the celebration, I can’t wait to hear/see all about it! :)

  • David, sounds like you’ve learned that being discriminating does not mean being elite.

  • Welcome back to the West Coast! This was a delightful blog entry and what a delightful tribute to CP. I hope to see you at Omnivore on the 30th.

  • Thank you for sharing your memories of Chez Panisse. I’ve never been to the restuarant (and I’d love to go, but don’t get to Berkley ever, it seems) but I can’t tell you how often in the past I’d defended the restaurant and the movement started by Alice Waters, to people back home. I moved to the bay area from the Washington DC area back in the 70’s. Everytime I’d go back for a visit or talk on the phone to one of my family or friends, when the subject of cooking came up, they’d all at some point, make a joke or criticizm about California “Qeezeen” and the influence of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. It was as if they thought their local steak house was going to be turning “California” if they saw one leaf of arugula on the salad plate. (and this from the DC area, no less..huh?) Well, they’ve all come around over the years, influenced by new restaurants, additions (not necessarily changes) to menus at their old favorite restaurants, from cookbooks and from TV chefs, most of them inspired by Alice. And I have to bite my tongue to keep from reminding these people of their original fear of someone changing the way they like to eat. I was smitten with her ideas right from the beginning; I guess I was ready for change. Of course, in the bay area, we have access to fresh local foods almost all year long so maybe it was a little easier.(?)

  • Such a beautiful walk down your memory lane, David. For me, it’s always touching to read about the formative events in peoples’ lives, the decisions and events that put them at the place they are in life. Your time at CP was obviously a big part of your life so thank you for sharing that with your readers.

    I’m a Californian by birth, only a few months before CP opened its doors in fact, so while I’ve certainly heard of the restaurant and it’s role in making “California cuisine” a household phrase, I suppose the truly ground-breaking nature of its history was lost on me. I’m from SoCal so it wasn’t part of my universe as it was for people up north. But I was intrigued by your post and clicked on the link to 40th anniversary celebrations. Reading about the Edible Schoolyard gave me a head-slap moment of my own. My girls get their school lunches from a school lunch service based outside of SF (with a local kitchen down here, of course). A quick browse thru their website lists a former CP chef as a member of their culinary team! Color me not surprised! So I suppose, in a way that goes far beyond making goat cheese and radicchio easily accessible in my corner market, Alice’s vision really did change the way we eat. All the way down to the wheat crusted cheese pizzas and organic, gluten-free chicken nuggets my girls are eating (and loving!) in kindergarten!

  • You can feel the love for person, the place and the memories coming through in this post. It’s a rare opportunity to pay homage to such an influential part of shaping who you are and those who trained you. Thanks to this we all benefit – great cycle of life!

  • David: That was an absolutely wonderful post. You are so right about how our culinary tastes have matured thanks to wonderful places such as Chez Panisse. I am so glad that you decided to make the trip. I hope you plan on sharing your view if the celebration. Congratulations Alice Waters and everyone who ever spent time in her kitchen.

  • David,

    Great Story! Had Lunch there 2 weeks ago “Poached eggs with black eyed peas, braised pork, greens, toast & chilies. Simply Delicious! After 40 years many diners were still taking photo’s of the dishes put before them. I had my first dinner there 34 years ago!

    Have a Fun Celebration! Cheers!

  • Great post!

  • David
    Your prose is enchanting. You just brought back some lovely memories of glorious lunches at Chez Panisse.

  • We are so fortunate to live in the Bay Area and it has been a privilege every time we have dined at Chez Panisse. Alice and all of the staff have changed the way we look at food. I had never heard of risotto before our first visit there – now it is a weekly standard in my home kitchen and I’m pretty damn good at it!!!

    We first met David there shortly before he left – Alice handed us his first dessert cookbook and every Christmas I make the ginger cake (who the hell puts black pepper in a cake – David does, that’s who).

    It’s been a while since we’ve been there (unfortunate job layoff situation due to crappy economy) but as soon as possible we will be back – thanks David for the marvelous post.

  • love this fabulous tribute to such a revolutionary approach to food!
    I’ve still only eaten at the cafe upstairs…

  • As a student at Cal in the mid-1970s, my friends and I would go to Chez Panisse whenever we could (afford to). I go back with my family whenever we are in the Bay Area (we live in NYC). It is an amazing place and you wrote a fitting tribute.

  • Love this post! You are a gifted writer, David. Some day I would love to dine at Chez Panisse..

  • Ah David, I always think of you as a sweetheart, but I have to say, that is the top hella sweet post.

  • As a child of the 70’s, I had already watched and devoured every episode of The French Chef I could find on PBS, and was preparing dishes at 11 that I still make today, I can understand being a part of a new food revolution and not even knowing that we were. I would not even suggest that what you experienced was what I did as a teenager, but the awakening of something not known to most was what I feel we both experienced in our own way. I love that the thing engrained on your mind was what Ms. Waters said to you, tells me that the food was as important as the attitude that they were prepared with…. to respect your food and where it comes from. I know you did not intend this to become a hippy post but….hey, man..that’s the way we rolled back then.

  • Dear David, reading your post made me want to fly to Berkeley for this special occasion even though i know if i did there’s no way that i could get space at Chez Panisse (maybe if i got lucky when someone cancels the reservation). I have been a biiiiig fan of Alice Water and my love for local, organically grown fruit/vegetable and artisanal products came from her. I was so thrilled to meet her at Campanille in Los Angeles in a Slow Food event. She was lovely, didn’t know she was that fearful :-). I love Chez Panisse thank you for sharing the memories.

  • Great tribute to an iconic restaurant. Obviously you were a good student & we thank you for sharing what you learned. Bon apetit!

  • Wonderful read. Love all your books.

  • Thank you for sharing.

  • thanks for these memories. for all of us with just one CP souvenir, it’s great to know your years there are still making our life richer. Big hugs to Alice and the current crew for sharing!

  • Wonderful story David. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wow, this was very endearing. I look forward to reading your posts as often as you send them. Enjoy your reunion.

  • Lovely post and it made me revisit Richard Olney’s great book. I love his philosophy that says “good and honest cooking and honest french cooking are the same thing”. good cooking principles do not change once they cross frontiers.

  • I have loved and admired AW from afar. Such a wonderful tribute to a woman who has helped change how we eat in North America.Elle est une force, cette dame!!

  • Great story David..loved it.

  • I have never been to Chez Panisse and have always wanted to; however, your writing helps me imagine what a wonderful place it is. Thanks for a lovely post.

  • Thanks for the peek at the powerful radish-stamped note!

    Sweet Life sits on my bedside table, inspiring me.

    Enjoy!

  • I have the same feelings about my restaurant friends from years ago. In fact, 25 years later, we still get together quite often. It was MacArthur Park.

    This was an absolute delight to read David, thank you.
    LL

  • This is a lovely memoir and tribute to your time at Chez Panisse. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing this story, it’s neat to see your perspective.

  • Love your blog! Am also enjoying “The Sweet Life in Paris”. Thanks for helping me live vicariously whilst staying in my rural country town:)

  • I love this post David, I can feel your love for the ingredients. Have lots of fun!!!! and share later with us.

  • Ahhh, those amazing desserts!

    My husband and his UC cohorts often enjoyed the food and camaraderie, and for my 30th birthday he took me downstairs. We sipped port with Jerry, a fine evening.

    For a while, he made frequent trips to DC, and the only place open for dinner that late was the cafe…

    Visiting guests always meant a big dinner….we had strict rules: we shared our plates, passing round the table. If one became nervous that someone was taking too many bites from a plate the command “pass!” was followed.

    My 40th was celebrated with a group of family and friends taking over the banquettes. I’d visited Steve several times to make sure we were on the list in the days of no reservations.

    Brought a case of our home-made, unlabeled zin…which was appreciated by staff one they tasted our excellent vintage!

    Still the only place, though much more formal…and Alice’s feet are still firmly on the ground.

  • Finally got the chance to dine at the cafe a few months ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s simple food so exceptionally prepared, it’s mind-blowing. Can’t wait to go back.

  • David, I love your blog! And your gluten free brownies are amazing. I made them for my soon to be brother-in-law’s bachelor party and they were a huge hit. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and wit.
    I’m loving The Sweet Life in Paris as well!

  • I’ve had the great good fortune of having probably 30 or 40 dinners over the years there, each one memorable from the moment you enter the door. The clean purity of the room is the perfect backdrop for the purity of the cooking. And her books! They completely altered my way of life, striving to provide big flavor from well-sourced ingredients. Around my hhousehold we refer to her as the “Blessed Alice.”

  • David this post is a perfect example of why I get excited when your blog shows up on my RSS feed. What a beautifully written tribute. Enjoy your celebratory reunion:)

  • For my 70th birthday 3 years ago, I asked my brother for a birthday dinner at Chez Panisse and what I got was a weekend trip to SF culminating with dinner at CP. Lovely! I hope to do it again for my 75th.

  • Wonderful read. Tell us more about your Chez Panisse days.

  • I love reading your blog posts .. but this one is especially good. I wish I was back in paris sometimes.. your blog keeps me in touch ! Thank you

  • Thanks to remind me that sweet souvenir. Chez Panisse was the first restaurant where I ate when I got the chance to visit San Francisco. I remember that fresh tomato salad with just a light seasoning and a really good olive oil. Good flavor, light, fresh, perfect!

  • OH, what a wonderful memory! I lived in Oakland for 10 years and yes I dined beautifully at Chez Panisse and ate at Fanny’s every chance I got after standing in line at Acme’s!!
    I later ran a restaurant in VT and know what an incrediblt amount of work it is.
    Love your blog, thank you.

  • truly a beautiful piece, thank you.

  • Beautifully written post; thank you so much for sharing your experiences and photographs with us to live through vicariously. I’m so excited to hear Alice Waters lecture as a guest speaker for Michael Pollan’s “Edible Education” class this fall. Oh, and that calligraphy is absolutely charismatic. Welcome back to Berkeley! :)

  • Just read this one, after your other post on the Chez Panisse celebration.

    Is it necessary to be formidable to be exacting? My husband claims that he and his sibs never misbehaved because they knew what their parents expected of them, without the customary yelling or shouting exhibited by other families. Also, our Rabbi Emeritus, who presided over our synagogue for 50 years, never had to yell either. He was not formidable, and he’s still a favorite with the children for giving out candy.

  • David…you really are a great writer. I’ve never lucky enough to visit Chez Panisse, but I could feel and share in your awe as you walked in there for the first time. I recenlty moved to Italy, and the first time I walked into the local outdoor market here, I just stopped and stared, and realized that THIS was my life now. Fresh cannellini beans in the pod…check. Zucchini with the blossoms still attached and gorgeous…right there. Fresh mozzarella swimming in milk…*thud*. Growing up, we were on a very tight budget, but both of my parents were the offspring of Italian immigrants, and we were never without an incredibly large vegetable garden and small fruit orchard in our yard. I may have had to do without a lot of things, but I never had to do without good food. It’s wonderful to see the continued success of a restaurant that has really changed how people think about what they’re eating…that good food doesn’t need to be fussy, or obscure, or overpriced…to be delicious. How fortunate you were to have that experience, and how wonderful for you to continue to share your love of it with us.

  • David, thank you for this wonderful post =). I really enjoyed reading it and I am now intrigued about this wonderful place as it is Chez Panisse. I am very excited to meet you tomorrow in San Francisco. Love your blog and adventures with chocolate.

  • Loved this post. Enjoy the reunion!

  • You really captured the moment. Great work!

  • what a beautiful story and what inspiration it is to be able to read this. You haven’t lost your sense of romanticism with food! I love how you integrate this into your writing Thank You!

  • If good food had a voice, you’d be it. Thanks for writing and cooking and eating so wonderfully – every time I read something you write, I am inspired! Loved reading your latest newsletter too.

    I so hope to visit Chez Panisse in the near future. For some reason, the thought’s been lurking in my brain lately and I have been glancing hopefully at travel agencies’ windows more often than usual…