Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chez Panisse

I first read Comfort Me With Apples, by Ruth Reichl, somewhere around the time I turned 15. Then, I read it a few more times. 

I've wanted to go to Chez Panisse ever since then. In the (fabulous) book, Reichl details her meetings with a many a culinary genius in Berkeley, in the 1970s. She talks about meeting Alice Waters, who co-founded the Chez Panisse in 1971. If none of this is sounding familiar to you, here is something you--as a lover of food--should absolutely know: Alice Waters is one of the founders of California cuisine. Or, to put it another way, she is a big part of why you eat and cook local today. If you're a locavore you should be thanking this woman, this restaurant and of course, foodies living in Berkeley in the 1970s. 
More simply put, if you've ever had a bowl of fruit for dessert at a restaurant, or read ingredients listed alongside their local origins on a menu--you can attribute that focus on fresh, simple and local ingredients to Waters, Chez Panisse, Berkeley and the decade of peace and love. It was a perfect storm that started a culinary movement that continues today.

And I got to go to the restaurant (well, if you want to get technical, the cafe). And, I got to eat (dessert) at that restaurant. And, the waiter explained the process that went into two of the dessert options on the menu, and that explanation took a full five minutes. Heaven. I was in heaven.
I had the creme fraiche panna cotta with mulberry coulis (which was delicious, but not photogenic). My aunt Mary (who graciously hosted me in San Francisco all weekend) had the fig tart with chantilly cream, pictured here. Both were, needless to say, delicious.
I'm not just writing this post to brag to fellow foodies (although, that is part of my motive). I wanted to write about this place because it's inspiring to be surrounded by waiters and chefs who care about every morsel of food, every single ingredient, that goes onto your plate. And because, although there are a lot of caring waiters and chefs, this is still an incredibly rare experience. I also think it is important to acknowledge the start of important culinary revolutions, to better understand how we (as a food culture) came to be.

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