When I worked at Chez Panisse, we had a customer who would come for dinner several nights a week and eat downstairs in the kitchen. Jean lived by herself in San Francisco and took a cab across the bridge to Berkeley for dinner once or twice a week. When the waiters knew she was coming, they’d set up a small table next to the pastry department and she’d eat there. And because she was a generous soul, she’d treat her regular cabdriver to dinner upstairs in the café.
Other customers would come in and say, “How do I get to sit there?” I’m not sure what the attraction was, since we were all busy working, chugging water, tracing around, dishwashers hauling dishes, garbage and compost bins, but the concept caught on and eating in the kitchen became de rigeur for foodies. Oddly, for a while, whenever I went out for dinner and they knew me from the restaurant world, they’d always seat me near the kitchen, so I’d have a view of it. And I always asked if I could sit somewhere else. Who the heck wants to watch someone else work on their day off?
Jean was born and raised in San Francisco. Her parents were fur traders and they’d take long boat trips back and forth to Asia, and she and her sister would accompany them. During the long voyages, she told me, Jean and her sister would sit in the chef’s office and rifle through his cookbooks, picking out things for him to make.