Friday, August 26, 2011

Chez Panisse at Forty: one of three

Berkeley, August 28, 2011—
IT WAS IN ALL the papers; everywhere on the Internet; we heard about it on the radio and for all I know it was on television as well: but it's over now. I've had time to think about it, and you've had time to forget about it.

The 40th anniversary of Chez Panisse, I mean, celebrated with a confusing array of events public, private, and various configurations in between, in the week leading up to the actual date: August 28. This was the restaurant's fourth ten-year birthday celebration, and Alice wanted it to benefit the Edible Schoolyard Foundation, as well as celebrate the restaurant itself.

The tenth birthday party had been for staff and friends; it was at Joseph Phelps's vineyard in Napa county. The twentieth birthday was a public event on Shattuck Avenue in front of the restaurant. The thirtieth was among the plane tees on the esplanade beneath the Campanile at UC Berkeley. For the fortieth, Alice imagined something quite different: a number of simultaneous dinners, hosted by friends of the restaurant, cooked by staff and alumni and friends, all to benefit the Foundation.

I'll report on the events we attended here, since this is after all Eating Every Day. Then I'll have a few observations to make, no doubt; and I'll steer you to a few other webpages that seem to me to have interesting things to say about it all.

We began, Lindsey and I, by having dinner with our two daughters, who had worked at Chez Panisse in their youth and still have strong connections to staff and former staff, and of course with their two husbands. Chez Panisse is more than anything else a community, a family both energized and stabilized by its shared values and especially by the creative energy emanating from the edges of individual differences or adaptations of these values and experiences.
So we were six at table*, up in the café, where we had:
Pickled vegetables and olives with wild fennel
garlic soup with grilled bread and thyme
green beans, roasted peppers, and chanterelles, with hazelnuts, roasted eggplant toast with cherry tomatoes and basil
fried fishes with parsley, lemon, and garlic, with garden lettuces
mulberry, raspberry, and nectarine ice creams
vin rosé de Provence
All this was perfectly delicious, of course, and connected to so many memories. The fennel, for example: so often in the old days we picked wild fennel from Berkeley vacant lots. The mulberries: how many times had we bought them from Charlie Grech at various markets, and once or twice at his home outside Sonoma.

So many of these flavors and textures recalled other summertime meals at the restaurant, at home in the country, and in southern France, in the Var, in Nice. In the first ten years of Chez Panisse — the 1970s — something emerged that soon came to be called California Cuisine. This menu, and its preparation, beautifully represents an important corner of this cuisine. I don't think we'd have found anything like it in this country forty-one years ago.

*A couple of guests sat down for the photo, Cynthia and Kees, who was twice a cook at Chez P.• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

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