Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Lindsey's honor…

Eastside Road, February 17, 2011—
EACH OF THE FORTY weeks leading up to the fortieth birthday of Chez Panisse — August 28, 2011 — the week's menu is being dedicated to one or another major influence on the restaurant as it has developed over the years. This week's honoree is my dear wife, Lindsey, who was the pastry chef on opening night, who presided single-handedly over the pastry section for a number of years following, and who then built a pastry team with assistants and sous-chefs, some of whom have gone on to careers elsewhere (or, alas, to another dimension altogether), some of whom have returned from time to time.

Lindsey stayed with the position for twenty-six years. And her influence spilled well beyond the pastry and desserts: as the oldest woman in the restaurant, one with three children and a sometimes difficult husband, she brought maturity, patience, and sympathy to the place, contributing a kind of steadiness often otherwise in short supply. So it's fitting that she's among the famous forty, and we were more than usually happy to have dinner at the restaurant tonight, eating at a table d'honneur, "the romantic little table in the kitchen, next to the garbage," as Robert the Reservationist joked.

In fact the garbage is not apparent at all. The table's between the pastry section and the salad station. You're eating in the midst of the action, but the action in this kitchen seems quiet and methodical, not pressed and desperate. Since we know most of the cooks, we carry on conversation with them, taking care not to distract them. It's a pleasure to see their dedication to the job at hand, their attention to detail, each cook's constant awareness of the place of his or her work in the over-all context of a complex operation: three or four pastry people working for both the downstairs restaurant and the café; the salad cook; the grill cook; the cook presiding over the soup; the chef.
Pastry cooks consulting, from our table in the kitchen
And what did we have for dinner? We had:
Garden salad with roasted beets, goose prosciutto, and an egg
Dungeness crab chowder with celery, thyme, and pancetta
(except that I had potato-and-leek soup with crème fraîche, croutons, and snippets of scallion)
Grilled rack and loin of Watson Ranch lamb with mustard-flower sauce, cardoon and fennel gratin, and braised winter greens
Warm buckwheat crêpes with chestnut honey ice cream and citrus

These courses were of course all really superb. The goose prosciutto was made in the kitchen a month or two ago and aged nicely since. The egg was perfectly cooked and had real flavor. The greens and the vinaigrette were pointed and clean.

The soup was velvety without losing the grain of the potato and the slip of the leek. And the lamb was remarkable, the best I think I've ever had, this year's lamb, only a few months old, so delicate and tender it made me think of antelope, not lamb.
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An interesting note: almost everything on this menu came from within a few miles of our house, here in Sonoma county. Greens, watercress, egg, and leeks came from the Valley of the Moon; the lamb from near Petaluma. Another note: the lamb had grazed in vineyards, where the wild mustard is now in flower; flowers from this mustard flavored the sauce that accompanied it.

Buckwheat and chestnut honey are two of Lindsey's many favorite flavors, and the ice cream was so beautifully textured and flavored she might have made it herself — but she didn't. It came from the kitchen she contributed so much to over so many years. What a fabulous woman! How appropriate to honor her so!
Montlouis, Le Rocher Violette, 2007; Chardonnay, Dutton Goldfield (Sonoma), 2007; Syrah, Cep Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), 2007
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525


Giovanna said...

How nice. The dinner and the post about it. And how happy Mom must have been to finish with buckwheat...wish I'd been there!

curlywurlyfi said...

This is a delightful post, + what an entirely lovely thing to say about your wife.