This may seem like a rare post (and a late one at that), being that it’s a for a singular restaurant, for a singular meal, rather than a city or region. But, if you know me at all, it’s actually no surprise that I’d write an entire post about Chez Panisse. In fact, if you know me at all, I could stop writing here, simply state that dining at Chez Panisse was wonderful, and just caption the pictures.
Because, I’ve likely already talked your ear off about eating in any of the ways I personally choose to eat.* You know my passion for food, agriculture, and equality. I take the time to educate myself about the choices I am (fortunately) capable of making. I garden, I shop at farmer’s markets, and I have a monthly share of meat from a local CSA. I love to cook, I’ve learned to bake, and I take care to do things well. Somewhere along the way of becoming the person I am today, Alice Waters appeared, and in many subtle ways guided me along.
*Pick an descriptor, they’re all true: seasonally, locally, luxuriously, organically/low impact, locally, simply, generously.
In a few ways, my food philosophy transformation is similar to Alice Water’s. She was a picky eater growing up, much like me. And, much like me, it wasn’t until traveling to France that she began to see “how [food] fit into people’s lives in a delicious way.” (Though for me it was first Italy, and then France, and then Morocco, and then Germany, and then, well, all over.) Since she opened Chez Panisse over 40 years ago, and in all her endeavors in between, Alice Waters has influenced a movement focused on celebrating the acts of producing and eating food and everything in between.
I realize it may sound strange to have a “food philosophy,” but we all have one whether we acknowledge it or not. Whether we analyze our behaviors and assess our choices or not. How we eat is an intrinsic part of who we are and how we relate to one another. Do you eat at a table? Do you eat with others? Do you know where you food comes from? Do you know what your food is? Do you enjoy it?
For as big of a fan base as Alice Waters has (myself included), she has a number of critics as well. People who say that her approach to eating is elitist, inaccessible, that the Edible Schoolyard Project is cultivating failure. And some of the criticism is valid. As someone who has spent a lot of time researching, critiquing, and engaging with food systems and nutrition in the US and around the world, it’s hard to completely agree with the naysayers. Nothing is perfect. It’s easier to criticize than it is to find a solution. While inexpensive, accessible food is critical to many, many people, it doesn’t make eating whole foods and quality foods any less critical. Both can exist in some moderation. And in many parts of the world, both do exist at all levels of society.
I’ve said it before, that one of the things I love so much about eating is how it brings people together and how it is a time for us to slow down. I’ll admit, from time to time, I’m guilty of grabbing a coffee to go, eating while watching Netflix, or rushing through a lunch. I blame it on being a busy person, a responsible adult. But I personally do not like that. So to be able to spend a few quality hours dining at Chez Panisse is something I’ll remember for both the excellence of the meal and the reminder to slow down. And I won’t forget it for a long time.
Roasted breast and braised leg of Liberty duck with parsnip cake, rainbow carrots, and fried herbs
Oh the food ! You’ve been scrolling through photos and I haven’t even talked about what we ate. Squab liver mousse ! Flaky chanterelle mushroom galette ! Langoustine in Champagne butter ! Confit duck ! Passion fruit ice cream ! And so much more… I ate it all (and some of Keith’s, who doesn’t care for seafood. Poor him. Lucky me !). It was simple decadence, tempered by variety and moderation, elevated by quality and thoughtfulness.
My favorite dish? It’s a hard battle, but unsurprisingly I would have to say the seafood in butter. It was rich and light at the same time, and those scallops were oh so good…
I would definitely go back to Chez Panisse, obviously, but I’d also try the café upstairs for à la carte options. A couple of the items I saw in the kitchen (!!!) were clearly designated for upstairs. Like this fruit galette that was being sliced up. I wish pictures were audio and visual mementos because the sound the flaky crust of this galette made when being cut was just incredible. I stood by for a few minutes and used all but a few senses to take it all in.