How a restaurant changed the world

  • PENQUIN
 

Chez Panisse is a French restaurant in an old home in Berkeley, Calif. Its menu is set, like that of a dinner party, and changes every night. Whether or not you've eaten there, you've felt its influence, which has rippled through the West and the world over the past 37 years. 

The organic craze and its more recent cousin, the local-food movement, owe more to Chez Panisse than perhaps any other institution. The late food writer R.W. Apple Jr. declares it "indisputably the most influential" restaurant in the United States in the introduction to Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, by veteran nature writer Thomas McNamee. 

Chez Panisse is generally thought of as the brainchild of Waters, its primary proprietor. But that's not the whole story, and McNamee tells the rest of it, tracing the restaurant's roots back to 1960s Berkeley. 

Waters, a University of California at Berkeley graduate, fell in love with food during a semester abroad in France, and long nurtured a dream of a restaurant imbued with that country's flavors - culinary, aesthetic and cultural. She brought her exacting taste to bear not just on the restaurant's food and decor, but on its cooks, servers and purveyors, whom she chose more for their mindset than their experience. She made a fetish of freshness above all: "We gathered watercress from streams, picked nasturtiums and fennel from roadsides, and gathered blackberries from the Santa Fe tracks in Berkeley," Waters recalls in the book. Over the years, Waters' emphasis on local sourcing grew into larger crusades for environmentally informed eating of all kinds, particularly healthy school lunches. 

McNamee quotes Julia Child chastising Waters in 1981 as "unduly doleful" about American produce. "Visit any supermarket and you'll see plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables," Child said. But Waters has since won that argument, having helped convince much of the culinary world that vegetables bred for toughness, raised on pesticides, transported in shipping containers and stored in warehouses are not just tasteless, but fundamentally immoral. 

A strength of the book is its population of colorful personalities, from the flamboyant chef Jeremiah Tower to an eccentric, depressed psychiatrist-turned-forager named Gerald Rosenfield. Unfortunately, the recipes sprinkled through the text are intentionally vague - too much so to be useful. Although Alice Waters and Chez Panisse is not a cookbook, it offers one very important recipe: how to create a small business that can change the world. 

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution

Thomas McNamee

351 pages, hardcover:

$27.95.

Penguin, 2007.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....