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.