Chez Panisse Anniversary Weekend

olives

Well, the anniversary fête for Chez Panisse finally came to an end and I was more than glad that I came for the weekend of events. From the moment I had my first sip of Bandol rosé on Friday afternoon to the big final blow-out event for the hundreds of people who’d worked in the restaurant and café on Sunday, hoo-boy, the weekend marked a milestone in my life. And although Alice Waters swore there wouldn’t be another anniversary celebration like this, I’ve learned never to count out this fiercely determined woman.

heirloom tomatochez panisse glass
chez panisse 40plum tart

One of the main things I learned at the restaurant, and from Alice, was that less is more. I’m as guilty as the next person of saying this, but when I hear people say they didn’t like a restaurant because they left and were still hungry, I’m glad that I no longer feel the need to qualify a restaurant based on how distended by stomach feels. Yes, we eat the feed ourselves, but I’m not so sure the hype about extreme eating and so forth have had all that many positive effects on society and our health. During breakfast with a friend at a local café, I was amazed at the amount of food on the plate that was presented to me. (Although I did somehow manage to eat it all, as well as the heaping plate of carnitas I had the day before. So I should keep my mouth shut, in more ways than one.)

tomatoesplums from Frog Hollow
carrots and olivescopper lamp

Another neat thing about the restaurant is how much the guests participated in…and could experience – almost all of the workings of the restaurant. If anyone had asked to see any part of the place, from the meat walk-in to the wooden shed where we stored the crates of colorful heirloom tomatoes, we would’ve taken them to see it.

chez

plum tart

It wasn’t uncommon for diners between courses to get up and take a stroll through the kitchen to see what we were cooking. I remember one woman peering into a garbage can full of vegetables and apple peels, and exclaiming “What beautiful garbage!”

cafe crewpicking parsley
purslanechez panisse carafe

Of course, everyone touring the kitchen always stopped at the pastry department to see what we were doing. I never really thought about it, even though now open kitchens are much more common, but it’s pretty unusual to be invited to take a stroll through a busy working kitchen. No one’s ever been told “No” or given a strange look: we never had anything to hide.

birdspoultry
farm strawberriesprep list

When I was leafing through the commemorative book, 40 Years of Chez Panisse, there was a picture of one of the cook’s meetings (below, by Aya Brackett), which took place before each shift, a few minutes when everyone one sat around a table and discuss all that needed to be done for the day. There’s chef Jean-Pierre Moullé going through the menu with the crew, and in between each cook is a basket of fava beans that they’re shucking while they discuss how the prep is going to work, what tasks needed to be done, and how they were going to serve the food when the first guests arrive in a mere four hours.

Chez Panisse at 40 Book

It took me back to the baskets of beans and peas that we often kept on the bar upstairs, not for customers to nibble on, but for the hosts and waiters to shuck during any down times in service. And invariably a customer idling nearby would come and start up a conversation and begin shucking as well: for some reason, Chez Panisse invited participation and many of our customers became close friends of ours.

foccacia

melons

It’s always more than a little odd to me when I hear the elitist label tacked on to preparing and eating normal food, as if ‘local fruits and vegetables’ somehow is a kind of kooky left-wing, subversive act. While the whole scenario can lend itself to some eye-rolling, none of it was forced – it all was just a normal part of the restaurant and probably couldn’t exist anywhere else, in any other city.

green string farmwatercress
canard farm tomatoesexcellent as always

And if you think about it, it’s our most basic human nature; to gather food and prepare it together. (Even though, personally, I work better alone. But I’ve always been somewhat of an aberration.)

almonds

And while I like the idea of using all organic, sustainable, and local products, that’s just not possible where I live. But that’s what makes us all interesting and part of a big mix, and at the events were people who’d left Chez Panisse to open bakeries, Tex-Mex restaurants, and ice cream shops. But we all share the same background and culinary influences.

ice cream bombe

When I left the restaurant, Alice told me “You have your own style, which is different from the restaurant.” Which was, and is, true. Whereas she’s not a big chocolate fan, I am. Then she gave me a good swift kick in the britches, and I was outta there.

cafe salmonsalmon and fig leaves
Ici signIci ice cream

Two people I worked with, Mary Canales and Charlene Reis, went on to open Ici ice cream shop and Summer Kitchen Bakeshop, respectively, carrying on the same principles, but adapting them to their situation and style of churning and baking. Respectively.

sandwich

pâté

Because the events for the past weekend were a benefit for edible school yards, some were priced aggressively, to raise money to improve the food options for children in our communities. And others were inexpensive enough (such as box lunches for a suggested donation of $5) so that as many people as possible could participate.

fresh raspberriesmaking aioli
shrimp and aioliradishes

All in all, the weekend was amazing and I was really glad I made the decision to come back. The history of Chez Panisse is part of my history, especially all the great people I worked with, many who have scattered away, and who came back for the weekend events as well. Alice said “This is it, there’s not going to be a fiftieth” and perhaps she’s right. And who knows where we’ll all be in fifty years anyways? And to be honest, I think it’s going to take that long to recover from all the fun, and of course, the food, and being with all my good friends – old and new – who cooked it.

menu meeting

enjoy these fine heirloom tomatoes!

berry aftermath



Related Posts

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Chez Panisse at Forty

89 comments

  • Absolutely beautiful pictures. That’s the beauty of great ingredients. You don’t have to do much to make them shine.

  • It also drives me crazy when fresh food is labeled elitist. In my view, the statement is also ill informed. There has been a tremendous push in the US to support local farmers and make their food accessible to all. Case in point: since 2005, farmer’s markets in NYC accept food stamps. How brilliant is that? So happy for Alice Waters, and very happy you were able to be there for the celebration.

  • such an amazing gathering. the story is inspiring as usual, but oh the food!! everything looks so good and i bet they tasted just as good or even better, i cannot wait to dine there again and have that chez panisse experience. thanks for sharing.

  • Love the photos; thanks for sharing the fun with us! I’ve only eaten there once but it was remarkable.

  • I am really starting to regret not going there when I was out that way in June. Also, wish I was there right now so I could go to your book signing at Omnivore, the coolest place in the world.

  • I’m glad you chose to attend the weekend’s festivities too – your posts about the celebrations were great to read and showed us another side of you. Thanks for sharing.

  • Love the pictures- such beautiful ingredients! Though we can’t always buy local, we can take the inspiration from Alice Waters and Chez Panisse to buy nourishing and delicious food. It’s about using intent and not mindlessly eating junk that does nothing for our bodies physically or emotionally. Thanks for a wonderful post!

  • Are those almonds being infused with sage and rosemary?

  • Your photos make me hungry..

  • Will definitely be making that plum tart. And I love that raspberry print, signed and drying so that it can be framed! What a great momento of the event!

  • just beautiful

  • The pictures are beautiful. Thank you for letting us in on the wonderful event. A little bird (who shall remain nameless) sent us a text Saturday night while we were out and said the police came and broke up the Chez Panisse party. True? What fun. It’s been a long time since I was at a party where that happened.

  • Beautiful photos and beautiful food. I can’t get over how even and clean the slices of plum are in the closeup of the plum galette being laid out.

  • Beautiful post for a beautiful restaurant! I go there for my birthday every year, and if I can mange other dinners through out the year, I do. What I love about that place is the simplicity and the gorgeousness of the food. Not over sauced and over sculpted, just beautiful food sitting there waiting to be eaten. I remember once going for my birthday dinner, and roast chicken was on the menu. I have to admit I was disappointed with the selection for my birthday, but when I ate the chicken, it was like no other roast chicken I had ever eaten!! Another memory I have is ordering the flight of wines to match the courses. They brought a white wine that was suppose to go with the fish. I sipped it before the dish arrived, and I thought meh, but when they they were paired together, sheer magic occurred in my mouth!

    I love how Chez Panisse has spawned so many other wonderful eateries in the Bay Area also.
    Can you tell I’m still hopelessly in love with this restaurant!!!

  • Beautiful pics! David, how was that salmon prepared? Was it wrapped in maple leaves and then smoked? Looks amazing!

  • I loved reading about your reflections of your time at Chez Panisse. Though I have not eaten there, I use a few of the cookbooks and have certainly been influenced by the movement that originated there. Your photographs are beautiful. Thanks for the post.

  • Such a heartwarming post. I loved reading this.

  • After spending many summers in the Bay Area, I finally had the chance to eat a wonderful meal at Chez Panisse. The experience was everything that I had hoped it would be. The building, the staff and the food was simply delicious. After reading your post and observing the people that worked in Chez Panisse, the thing that I think made this place one of a kind and the food to die for, is the respect and love that is put into everything. I enjoyed every moment I had in this place and I’m crossing my fingers for many more great meal at Chez Panisse in my future.

  • What a wonderful weekend, your photos are gorgeous. I can’t put into words how much Alice Waters/Chez Panisse has influenced me throughout the years – and continues to.
    I dream of the bacon and egg pizza…

  • My husband and I recently moved to the bay area. We are so excited about our upcoming reservation at Chez Panisse. I’m even more excited after reading this article. Such beautiful pictures and love what Chez stands for.

  • gorgeous pictures!
    and that tart is a work of art! how beautiful is it!?

  • I love this mouthwatering pâté! Need the recipe – how was it prepared? Is there a chance to get it David? My new pâté-baking dish is crying for work;),
    greetings to you, Sandy

  • The photos are as wonderful as the memories you’ve shared…
    Thanks for both!
    (BTW, Whole Foods is also offering the chance to contribute to Edible Schoolyards…not as much fun as buying a box lunch at Chez Panisse, but a worthy cause!)

  • All those wonderful photos from Chez Panisse, but not a single one of Alice!!!

    • She was pretty occupied the whole weekend (to put it mildly…) and a lot of people were vying for her attention. I did have one picture of her in the 1960s (at a war protest in Berkeley!) that I was going to include in this post, but didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the shots.

  • May I ask how you prepare the purslane (pourpier) ?

  • well now i want to go sit at their bar with a drink and help shuck peas. i loved reading this. beautiful photos!

  • omg i want to make that exact same tart … what kind of pastry should i use??

    • There’s a recipe for that dough in my book, Ready for Dessert, which is what we used at the restaurant for open-faced fruit tarts.

  • Thank you for giving us a little glimpse into all the weekend events and the atmosphere at Chez Panisse — looks incredible. And gorgeous photos and writing, as usual!

  • There are always so many things that go on behind the scenes at any business. Thanks for giving a bit of insight. Love the photos. What an experience you had working there.

  • I want some of those almonds so bad I can hardly stand it. I miss fresh CA almonds.

  • I think those moments in time will be with you always.

  • Beautiful; thank you for such a lovely piece of writing and inspiration.

  • Great story, great photos. A beautiful tribute to you all

  • Fine piece-memories, memories and the berry paper really brought them flooding back. You’ve really captured the restaurant and what it means to us.

  • Amazing story – so heartwarming.
    Loved the pictures, especially the one of the almonds. What is the recipe, please?
    Just finished reading The Sweet Life in Paris – very inspirational book. Looking forward to your London signing.

  • Beautiful post and photos. Made me smile first thing in the morning!

  • David, you didn’t see me, but I was there too! vicariously through you . . . thanks for bringing out the charm of your 40th Reunion at Chez Panisse.

  • My husband and I have become comfortable with sharing a meal in a restaurant, because the portions are so big, as you mention, each time you are in the States. It’s sad to hear people complain about still being hungry, when they have been served a delicious meal.

  • David– you mentioned that you ate carnitas — where did you partake in those luscious morsels of pork? Always looking for the best carnitas!

  • Thanks for this marvellous account, David. Everything looks so fresh and inviting and tasty. Good for you that you attended.

  • Thank you for your last two posts.You are the only one who could have me wanting lamb for breakfast, after reading yesterday’s post. I too felt I was “there”, your pictures are incredible. Off to my kitchen to make the plum tart.

  • David, wonderful, evocative post with such gorgeous pictures….. merci beaucoup!
    Lucky enough to live within regular eating distance of Chez P for more than 30 years.

    I was hooked one day in the late 70′s when I stopped by to make a res and found myself swept in to shelling favas at a table with Lulu Peyraud and Nathalie Waag.

  • Delighted to see those beautiful Frog Hollow plums. Love Farmer Al’s fruit. Just taught a pie workshop at their farm the week before the 40th.

  • Looks like a great time – thanks for posting about this! I just received the Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary book for my birthday, can’t wait to peruse it!

  • Long time reader, first time poster.

    I lived in Berkeley for a long time, and so much of the subtext of your post — the balance between elitism, traditional practice, and affected traditional practice — characterizes not just Chez Panisse, but the town, the campus, the entire area.

    Having been away for almost a decade, and having gained some perspective, I understand what people mean when they poo poo the Bay Area for its peculiar sort of privilege. But this post has reminded me of how much I miss Berkeley, and how much, I think, I will never stop missing it.

  • *Please* tell us how to make the almonds.

  • Lovely photos, lovely stories, lovely memories! I tried to go to Chez Panisse while I was in the area in June, but it didn’t work out. Luckily for me, I’m planning to move to the Bay Area, so soon enough, soon enough.

  • David – thanks for sharing your 40th CP experience.

    I’ve only been to the restaurant a few times, but each time was memorable, and everything, from the service, to the menu, to the food, was perfect. I just wish there were more restaurant owners like Alice Waters around – a person who obviously cares greatly that the customer leaves with a memory of such a positive eating experience.

  • Kevin: I was at a place called Cancún in downtown Berkeley, which was pretty darned good. I know there are other places (like Picante, which I also ate at), but it was within walking distance to where I was staying and in true Berkeley spirit, to reduce my carbon footprint, I thought I’d exercise that option that day ; )

    Dena, Rossi + Sandy: Many of the recipes and dishes served at the restaurant and in the café are likely in one of the books. I don’t have them with me right now (since I’m traveling) but perhaps they’re in one of them.

  • Thanks David for the loving post and wonderful images. I have to plan a trip to Berkeley again soon :-). Best regards.

  • It was great pleasure to meet you this week end for the 40 th.
    Thanks for posting the tarts pictures, It will make my Mama proud .

  • I loved this post and the great photographs. I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Waters at the Smith-Berry Winery in Henry County, Kentucky years ago. She has been a great inspiration to many and let’s hope there will be a fiftieth! Nonetheless your post reminds us that a restaurant is not made up of one person solely, and that preparing and eating food together in a communal effort is best. Thanks a bunch David!

  • Beautiful tribute, David. I always enjoy your perspective on the world. Pretty neat to see another side of Alice too, from the war protest picture.

    Looking forward to meeting you tonight at Omnivore Books!

  • That plum tart looks almost too beautiful to eat.

  • wow!

  • Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! Sorry, I’m gushing but can’t help it – the story, the memory, the photos. Thank you for sharing.

  • Well written, under each picture has a text description, so that the article becomes more vivid.In these pictures, the most appealing to me is the food pictures.Looks very delicious.Thank you for sharing.

  • What a nice piece and how proud you must be to be part of this unique experience. I love, love, love the “What beautiful garbage!”. As we say in France “Montre moi ta poubelle, je te dirai qui tu es”.

  • David, you never fail to amaze and delight with your beautiful photos and copy content and this lovely article was no exception. I am an avid follower of your blog since earlier this year and you have no idea how inspirational your writing has been in supporting a total 360 career change for me to a food related one: teaching children how to eat – and cook – right. (I just launched last week.)
    I’ve always admired Alice Waters since I first heard of her 25 years ago and what she stood for in the way of fresh, local and sustainable food, and your lovely article pays homage to her and her ideals beautifully.
    I hope I can emulate just a little of what she (and you) have done and continue to do in my new food ventures.

    Cheers !

    Warren.
    Toronto, Canada.

  • After 16 years of living in Berkeley, reading cookbooks about Chez Panisse (and sometimes cooking from them), I finally went to Chez Panisse. CP has such a huge reputation and I had assumptions around how intimidating/pretentious it would feel. I have to admit that the whole experience was truly great. The best part of the meal was the friendly staff, the overall delicious food and falling in love with anchovy salad dressing. Also learning what a puntarelle is and getting to meet a fresh one in person.

    A big thanks to all the people who celebrated the 40th anniversary and donated to the Edible Schoolyard fund. Not only do my children directly benefit from the program, but I am so pleased the effort is going nation-wide. Every child has the right to an opportunity to weave their history, science, language arts lessons into a full growing/cooking/eating experience and to do it together with other kids from all walks of life.

  • Loved reading this entry and the pictures are truly gorgeous!

  • Lovely, lovely, lovely!!! All your posts about the Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary made me feel as I had been a part of this meaningful restaurant and celebration, Merci!

    PS: J’dore those Chez Panisee 40th wine/drinking glasses…are they for sale anywhere?

  • Great photos!

  • David, I’m so happy you were able to be there for the anniversary party – what a great slice of your personal and professional history. Thanks for sharing. As usual, I’m tres, tres jealous!

  • Absolutely stunning photos!

  • It looks like a wonderful party and as usual your photos are superb and induce hunger. Hope you’ll share some pics featuring the staff and Ms. Waters in the near future.

  • This makes me miss Bezerkeley so much. What beautiful food. Love Chez Panisse…and Cheese Board…and Virginia Bakery…I could spend a day eating my way down Shattuck.

  • Amazing posting. I’m glad you went back as well. Just so i can see all these wonderful pictures and stories that mean so much to you.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Oh David Lebovitz,
    You are so darn charming. Your blog posts are so enjoyable to read.
    love,
    cheila

  • Sorry to have barely managed to say hello…but apparently I was following you around all weekend–we were at Ici and Picante as well. What a great weekend, glad you got to come!

  • That picture of the Frog Hollow Farms plums reminded me of Jon Rowley’s recent Rainier Cherries Post

  • I am just so proud of you and all the people that are committed to simple, tasty food. Keep up the good work. Your writing makes me happy.

  • Being I’m a shepherd I love the 40th Chez Panisse pin with felted wool locks!

    Being in touch with the farmer,yes!

  • Absolutely gorgeous post. Beautiful. Photos as well. Wow.

  • Thank you for the wonderful report and pictures. I had to read it twice. As far as the elitist label goes it is dismissive and short-sighted at best. The way I think of it is that Chez Panisse is the highest standard of local/sustainable and the one that set the trend, IMO, for the better of us all. Now, of course we cannot all eat like that ALL the time due to locale or funds or lack of time, but we can all just “try” to do that and more importantly strive to be like that. It’s a mindset that will help us be more cognisant of what we eat and drive us to make better choices.

    BTW, “The Sweet Life in Paris” is an addictive read.

  • So wonderful that Chez Panisse is still going strong! Your images and stories are a fitting tribute, thank you!

    Alice Waters and her cookbooks felt like a gift from heaven when I moved from Italy to the East Coast. At last someone, back then, besides Jean-Louis Palladin at the Watergate, who promoted local produce and seasonal cooking.

  • Hello David,

    I was at the celebration too and you described and evoked it perfectly. There was such a spirit of generosity and hospitality. I and my friends loved how the wine never stopped flowing…and what wine! The night of private dinners was also superb…I went to Cecilia Chang’s for a memorable banquet of 21 courses and an unforgettable evening. There is something about Berkeley…oh why did I go to Cambridge? And why do I live in New York?

    Thanks so much for the photos and the words…these pages are going into my “saved” folder.

    All best.

  • Very nice! Good photos to

  • Alice Waters and Chez Panisse are two of the best things that have happened in the United States during my lifetime, and I completely agree that there’s absolutely nothing “elitist” about eating locally grown seasonal foods (wish we had more of same in Paris) or taking pleasure at the table. Glad you had such a lovely time.

  • I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve always wanted to work there. Your post just reminded me how great Chez Panisse is.

  • I’m glad you decided to attend the celebrations David. Sometimes it’s nice to go back and revisit.

    I love the last photo of the table with everyone in their whites. I can imagine the food looked even more wonderful not having to compete with the colours of the diners outfits.

  • David, your photo of the plum tart so inspired me that I created my own version of it. I used the Chez Panisse Almond Tart dough from your blog as a starting off point, but swapped out the all-purpose flour for white whole wheat and omitted the almond extract. Here is the link to my version on my blog: http://flowercityfoodie.com/2011/09/06/plum-tart/

  • How absolutely wonderful to return back to Chez Panisse in the States to celebrate 40 grand years of honest and delicious food! Glad you were able to enjoy such a special moment and reconnect with inspirational people. Great blog by the way! Will be scanning the “Paris” recommendations before I head that way in November 2011.

  • What beautiful photos!

  • Beautiful pictures! It is really one of my dreams to have a dinner at Chez Panisse!

  • 17 years ago when I traveled to San Francisco from the midwest, I had lunch at Chez Panisse. The clarity of the flavors, the warmth of the room and the staff, and the quality of everything we ate were so memorable that it remains the best food I’ve ever had in my life.