Chez Panisse: French style brought to America

BERKELEY, Calif. — The American restaurant with a very French style of dining, Chez Panisse, founded by Alice Waters and friends, will celebrate its 44th year Aug. 28.

A view of the Chez Panisse kitchen with a chef preparing for lunch

A view of the Chez Panisse kitchen with a chef preparing for lunch – photo by Christian Ormson

Recently, the Teen Observer staff did a walk-through of the early-morning set up to see how the staff approaches an average day.

The earth-tone cedar shingles, as well as the over-hanging tree branches on the decorative porch fencing is the first clue that customers might be walking into a different kind of establishment.

Inside, in the first-floor dining room, dim lights, handmade architectural details and even the wildflower flower arrangements add to a seasonal feel. General Manager Jennifer Sherman said these details should “point towards what you’re about to eat.”

The restaurant and the upstairs and less-formal cafe change their menus daily and buy from local farmers who don’t use pesticides or chemicals.

The dining room serves a four-course meal, and those in the cafe can order a la carte.

“The wonderful thing about Chez Panisse is that it’s so collaborative, there’s a lot of people coming together under Alice’s idea,” said Sherman.

It’s a busy hustle when the cooks arrive in the morning at 6:30 a.m to prepare for the lunch crowd. These chefs have a specific area of expertise in cooking, with lots of variation.

While someone may be preparing sheets of pasta, another will be sorting out the fresh, best-looking raspberries from the not-so-good ones, which might go into a sauce. There will be a chef setting up cheese blocks while the bartender prepares the bar with glassware.

Chez Panisse has an open design concept. After a fire destroyed the wall separating the kitchen from the dining area 30 years ago, Waters saw that as an opportunity to open the space so restaurant-goers could see from the front of the house to the back, an open-concept that has become widespread.