With more than 500 customers a day and a menu that changes depending on what’s freshest, Chez Panisse proves to be on the cutting edge of farm-to-table dining.
BERKELEY, Calif. — When entering Chez Panisse, one is instantly transported to a cozy, European atmosphere. The homey restaurant opened its doors in 1971 when Alice Waters and friends decided to bring the French ideals of fine dining to what later became the “gourmet ghetto” of Berkeley. Jennifer Sherman, general manager, spoke admirably about Waters (who was not at the interview), advocating for her mindset: “She felt the United States had lost the tradition of actually talking at dinner,” she said, when she first opened its doors years ago.
Back then, the tables covered in red- checked tablecloths and assorted flea market chairs, and for $6.75 per person, diners could order a three-course meal that included wine. Today a four-course meal at Chez Panisse costs approximately $100 per person — not including wine.
A recent menu indicated the wide variety at the restaurant: wild herb and cured ham agnolotti in yellow tomato consommé; halibut with black truffles; quail with grapes, carrots and polenta; Flavor King plum galette with fennel flower ice cream, to name a few.
Preparation is essential
The idea behind Chez Panisse is farm-to-table, gourmet food. The menu revolves around what is fresh at the market that week. The downstairs dining has a price-fixed menu, and at the upstairs cafe, restaurant goers can order a la carte.
The freshest produce in California included peaches, cucumbers and strawberries, when the Teen Observer staff toured and talked to the staff. Sherman described the early weeks of the month as “luxurious” because of the abundance of produce.
Pastry chefs spent the morning sorting raspberries to pick the best ones to use on the ice cream.
“We spend a lot of time sorting fruit,” said one of the pastry chefs. All berries are picked and used within one or two days. There is also a room devoted to making pasta and washing lettuce.
Chez Panisse is celebrating its 44th anniversary on Aug. 28 with live music and a special dinner.