Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee


Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, named for the lovable generous Panisse of Marcel Pagnol's trilogy (Marius, Fanny, César) in Berkeley in 1971 in an ordinary looking old house.   At the outset, they had no trained chefs, no one really knew what they were doing in the front of the house, and they consumed huge amounts of champagne and drugs.  But somehow they managed to make dinner.  And they were sexy, according to Ruth Reichl (a former restaurant critic for the New York Times who wrote Garlic and Sapphires, a laugh out loud book).  She worked as a waitress at a collective restaurant she described as "earth shoe," while Chez Panisse was glamorous. 

For perhaps 15 years they made no money — all that champagne is expensive — but eventually at Alice's father's suggestion, they computerized the business operation and could then at least see where the money was going.  The food has changed over the years, depending on the cooks.  They served sophisticated French food during Jeremiah Tower's time (1973-75), although he was learning as he went along.  Now the focus is local, very fresh food.  The great achievement is in making the connections with local farmers who grow a variety of vegetables using sustainable practices. 

Alice herself is very appealing and quite a forceful person.  The 60 minutes interview with her is fun.

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