Chez Panisse: Where local produce and fine dining come together

BERKELEY, Calif. — It’s 10 o’ clock on a Monday morning and a delivery man is walking with freshly butchered lambs on each shoulder, heading toward the freezer. Chefs in their crisp, white uniforms are prepping for the hectic day ahead, each with their own specific job. Some are preparing meat; others are hand-picking the best raspberries out of the multiple trays in front of them; others are making pasta and washing lettuce. Upstairs, waiters and baristas are setting up tables, polishing the silverware with a sense of urgency while they quietly chat about their weekend.

Chef Nadia picks out the best, fresh raspberries to use for the day.

One of the pastry chefs picks out the best, fresh raspberries to use for desserts. Photo by Ashley Drake

“Alice [Waters] really wanted you to feel like you were entering her home,” the general manager, Jennifer Sherman, said as she walked through the kitchen, talking about the founder. “The feeling of things being handmade is very important to her.”

It all started when Alice Waters traveled to France. She was moved by the food, the daily shopping for what was freshest, the way it tasted and the traditional way of eating and having long dinner conversations. She and friends opened Chez Panisse in 1971 and added a more informal cafe in 1981, which offers an a la carte menu. 

A central idea to Chez Panisse is using only fresh produce, preferably organic. Fruits and vegetables are picked two days before they are used and are always local and in-season. Meat is delivered fresh each morning, and pasta is made from scratch each day.

“We have a great appreciation for agriculture. Beyond bringing people together, supporting the farmers is our next greatest focus,” said Sherman.

The open door concept of Chez Panisse's dining room.

The open-kitchen concept of Chez Panisse’s dining room. Photo by Ashley Drake

Waters has been a leader in the movement to eat local and in-season and is now vice president of Slow Food International.

“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.