Chez Panisse

Coordinates: 37°52′46.49″N 122°16′8.46″W / 37.8795806°N 122.2690167°W / 37.8795806; -122.2690167

Chez Panisse is a Berkeley, California, restaurant, known as one of the inspirations for the style of cooking known as California cuisine. Restaurateur, author and food activist Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 with film producer Paul Aratow, then professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. The restaurant emphasises ingredients rather than technique and has developed a supply network of direct relationships with local farmers, ranchers and dairies.

Chez Panisse
The front entrance to Chez Panisse
Restaurant information
Owner(s)Alice Waters
Food typeLocal/organic, California
CountryUnited States


In 1971, Paul Aratow and Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse in a long-neglected, two-story, mixed-use building on Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley, California. Chez Panisse is named for Honoré Panisse, a character in a trilogy of Marcel Pagnol films about working-class life in Marseille, France, called Marius, Fanny and César.[1]

The restaurant uses ingredients that are locally, organically and sustainably grown. The menu is dictated by what is fresh and in season and the restaurant has a network of farmers, ranchers and dairies. The restaurant states:

Alice and Chez Panisse are convinced that the best-tasting food is organically and locally grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. The quest for such ingredients has always determined the restaurant's cuisine. Since 1971, Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight out of the sea. In doing so, Chez Panisse has established a network of nearby suppliers who, like the restaurant, are striving for both environmental harmony and delicious flavor.[2]

The restaurant serves a set menu that changes daily and reflects the season's produce.[3]

In 1980, Waters and her partners/shareholders opened the Chez Panisse Café, which offers an alternative to the set menu of the downstairs restaurant. The upstairs café features the same local, organic ingredients as the restaurant, but the menu is a la carte and less expensive than the set menu of the restaurant. The upstairs menu also changes daily and offers selections of appetizers, main courses and desserts. While the restaurant serves only dinner, the café is open for both lunch and dinner.


The restaurant and café have their own chefs and are run separately. The restaurant has two head chefs, Amy Dencler and Jennifer Sherman. The cafe has two chefs, Beth Wells and Nathan Alderson. The pastry kitchen is run by chefs Carrie Lewis and Mary Jo Thoresen.[4] Alice Waters has served as the executive chef at Chez Panisse for more than 50 years, although her role has changed over the years. By 2007, she was longer in the kitchen every day. Instead, she did tastings, provided input on menus and was in charge of the operations of the restaurant and the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds the Edible Schoolyard, in Berkeley, that Waters founded in 1996.[1]

Inspirations and historyEdit

The Chez Panisse downstairs kitchen and dining room

As a participant in the Free Speech Movement that swept UC Berkeley's campus in the 1960s, Waters learned to love cooking for others while she hosted gatherings to discuss politics with her peers.[1] The restaurant was created to mimic this intimate experience.

The culinary influences for Chez Panisse were largely French, inspired by the 1920s cookbook of French cuisine bourgeoise, La bonne cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange. This book has been translated into English by Paul Aratow, who was also the first chef de cuisine at Chez Panisse. Waters first traveled to France as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, where she majored in French Cultural Studies, and immediately was drawn to the food and market culture around her. In particular, Waters found inspiration from Lulu and Lucien Peyraud, owners of the Domaine Tempier vineyard in Bandol, in the south of France. Aratow had lived for years in Italy and France, exploring the language, cuisine and culture of both countries and had a talent for hands-on culinary craftsmanship. He also designed and supervised the transition of an ordinary two-story apartment house into the restaurant structure.

In addition to Waters' travels in France, the writings of Richard Olney, an American cook who spent most of his life in France and of Elizabeth David, a British cook and food writer, served as inspirations for the restaurant's menu.

Waters wrote in 1980:

Chez Panisse began with our doing the very best we could do with French recipes and California ingredients, and has evolved into what I like to think of as a celebration of the very finest of our regional food products. The recipes of Elizabeth David and Richard Olney provided a starting point and inspiration to us; and we soon realized that the similarity of California's climate to that of the south of France gives us similar products that require different interpretations and executions. My one unbreakable rule has always been to use only the freshest and finest ingredients available.[5]

In 1971, Waters and Aratow opened the restaurant to a twice-sold-out house. Victoria Wise served as the first chef,[6][7] and Lindsey Shere, a friend of Alice's, was the pastry chef.

Due to Waters' insistence on using the highest-quality ingredients available regardless of cost, coupled with her lack of experience working in (not to mention running) a restaurant, Chez Panisse struggled financially for many years. The restaurant also gained a reputation for its staff's partying and illegal drug use, which contributed to the environment of the young Chez Panisse. Nonetheless, Waters and the restaurant began building up their network of local producers, which continues to provide the restaurant with the majority of its ingredients today.[1]

In 1972, Jeremiah Tower became the chef de cuisine of Chez Panisse, replacing Victoria Wise. While at Chez Panisse he was in charge of the kitchen and the menus. He left in 1978 and went on to open Santa Fe Bar and Grill and Stars in San Francisco, in the 1980s. He, along with Alice Waters, Paul Aratow and several other chefs are often credited with creating the style of cooking known as "California Cuisine." Paul Bertolli served as the head chef of Chez Panisse from 1982 to 1992. With Waters, Bertolli co-wrote the cookbook Chez Panisse Cooking. He later went on to become the head chef of Oliveto, an Italian restaurant in Oakland, California, and now owns the salumi company Fra'mani.

Jean-Pierre Moulle, who was trained in classical French cooking, joined the Chez Panisse kitchen in 1975 as Jeremiah Towers' sous chef and eventually worked his way to head chef. He retired in 2012.

Biographer Thomas McNamee has characterized the restaurant's history as "bipolar," with triumphs alternating with disasters leading to more successes. This cycle could be seen in the aftermath of a March 1982 fire that almost destroyed the restaurant building. Influenced by the book A Pattern Language, Waters collaborated with co-author Christopher Alexander on a redesign (principally by the great cabinetmaker, designer and builder Kip Mesirow) that removed the partially burned wall previously separating the kitchen from the dining room.[1] Today, the former is clearly viewable from the latter and diners interested in the kitchen and its cooking are often invited in. Famous diners include the Dalai Lama and President Bill Clinton. With the help of Alice Waters, filmmaker Werner Herzog cooked his shoe at Chez Panisse, eating it at the nearby UC Theater before the premiere of the film Gates of Heaven, an event recorded in the documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

On March 8, 2013, Chez Panisse was once again damaged by a fire that scorched the front patio and façade of the restaurant. The fire resulted in a four-month closure of the restaurant, during which the front portion of the restaurant was rebuilt.[8]



Beyond its broad influence on American cuisine, many former Chez Panisse staff members have become prominent chefs or founded notable food-related businesses:

Several Chez Panisse alumni have become notable food writers and cookbook authors:

There are many restaurants and businesses in the Bay Area run by Chez Panisse alumni:

  • Victoria Wise cooked the first-ever meal at Chez Panisse, and she went on to found Pig-by-the-Tail, a charcuterie which helped further define Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto.[27]
  • Chez Panisse alumni Richard Mazzera, Dennis Lapuyade, and Stephen Singer, who in 1998 founded César, a popular tapas restaurant next door[28]
  • Mary Canales, the former pastry chef, owns and operates Ici, a gourmet ice creamery in Berkeley, CA.[15]
  • Mary Jo Thoresen, pastry chef and co-owner of Jojo in Oakland, worked at Chez Panisse for twelve years.[15][29]
  • Charlie Hallowell, chef-owner of Pizzaiolo in Oakland, worked at Chez Panisse for eight years.[15][29]
  • Gayle Pirie, co-owner of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, was Alice Water's assistant from 1993 to 1997.[15][29]
  • Christopher Lee, chef and owner of eccolo in Berkeley, cooked at Chez Panisse for 16 years.[15][29]
  • Alison Barakat, co-owner of Bakesale Betty in Oakland, spent three years at Chez Panisse.[29]
  • Ramen Shop's (Oakland) owners Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman and Sam White, are all Chez Panisse alumni.[30]
  • Dominica Rice-Cisneros of Cosecha in Oakland.[31]
  • Amaryll Schwertner of Boulettes Larder in San Francisco.[32]
  • Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain of Camino in Oakland.[33]
  • Joanne Weir opened Copita, a modern Mexican restaurant and tequileria, in 2012, in Sausalito, California.[34]
  • Shaun O’Sullivan, after a very brief stint at Chez Panisse in 1993, opened the 21st Amendment Brewery in 2000 with Nico Freccia, an alum of Zuni Café.

Awards and recognitionEdit

In 2001, Gourmet magazine named Chez Panisse the Best Restaurant in America.[35] From 2002 to 2008 it was ranked by Restaurant magazine as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world and was ranked number 12 in 2003.[36] Michelin awarded the restaurant a one-star rating in its guide to San Francisco Bay Area dining from 2006 through 2009.[37][38] In 2007, Alice Waters won Restaurant Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award, and was cited as one of the most influential figures in American cooking over the past 50 years.[39]

Culinary innovationsEdit

  • California-style pizza, baked in an in-house pizza oven and topped with a variety of local ingredients, was created at the cafe in 1980.[40]
  • Goat Cheese Salad: first offered in the late 1970s, the salad contains rounds of chèvre marinated in olive oil and herbs, coated in bread crumbs, and baked, served with lightly dressed mesclun.[41]
  • In-house carbonated tap water: this filtered version of the East Bay Municipal Utility District offering first replaced conventional bottled water at the restaurant in summer 2006.[42]


  1. ^ a b c d e Alice Waters & Chez Panisse, Thomas McNamee, The Penguin Press, 2007.
  2. ^ Chez Panisse website|accessdate = 2010-10-27
  3. ^ "About". Chez Panisse Restaurant. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  4. ^ "About". Chez Panisse. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  5. ^ Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, introduction, Random House 1980
  6. ^ Tackeff, Sam. "pig by the tail | The Second Lunch". Retrieved Jul 13, 2019.
  7. ^ "Victoria Wise". Jan 29, 2010. Retrieved Jul 13, 2019.
  8. ^ Staff, Lydia Tuan (Jun 24, 2013). "Chez Panisse to reopen Monday after March fire". The Daily Californian. Retrieved Jul 13, 2019.
  9. ^ a b Andrea Pflaumer (2006-11-01). "Upper Crust:The San Francisco Bay Area has led us back from mass-manufactured sliced loaves to artisanal bread-baking at its finest". The Monthly. Archived from the original on 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  10. ^ a b c d e David Kamp. "Cooking Up a Storm". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  11. ^ Kim Severson (1999-09-29). "The rise and fall of a star: How the king of California Cuisine lost an empire". San Francisco Chronicle.
  12. ^ Burros, Marian (January 15, 1992). "In a Belt-Tightening Age, a $5.2 Million Restaurant Is Born". New York Times.
  13. ^ "Paul Bertolli". Archived from the original on 2007-07-04. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  14. ^ Michael Bauer (2006-10-06). "A new owner for Zuni Cafe". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on June 1, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Tracey Taylor (2007-08-17). "From Alice's to a place of their own". Financial Times. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  16. ^ Molly O'Neill (1992-10-11). "Ripe for Dessert". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  17. ^ "Awards Search | James Beard Foundation". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  18. ^ Amy Scattergood (2007-09-19). "Jonathan Waxman shares his wealth". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  19. ^ Simmons, Sarah (April 30, 2010). "Get to Know a Chef – Suzanne Goin". Bon Appetit.
  20. ^ "Joyce Goldstein". StarChefs. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  21. ^ Wells, Patricia (December 17, 2004). "A restaurant of the moment is an ode to Alice Waters". New York Times.
  22. ^ Brickman, Sophie (August 14, 2011). "Alice Waters' Chez Panisse turning 40". San Francisco Chronicle.
  23. ^ Martin, Claire (October 10, 2013). "A Day in the Life of Chef April Bloomfield". Wall Street Journal.
  24. ^ "About: David Lebovitz: Living the Sweet Life in Paris". Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  25. ^ "NYT Mag's New "Eat" Columnist: Samin Nosrat". The New York Times Company. June 28, 2017. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  26. ^ Baraghani, Andy (March 16, 2018). "I Hid Who I Was for So Long. Until I Became a Cook". Bon Appetit.
  27. ^ Rufus, Anneli Star Josselin (January 26, 2011). "Chewing the Fat About Food With Victoria Wise". East Bay Express.
  28. ^ "About Cesar". César Restaurant. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  29. ^ a b c d e Scott Hocker (November 2006). "The Children Of Chez Panisse:Chefs who labored in the famed Shattuck Avenue restaurant keep opening hot spots of their own". Diablo Magazine.
  30. ^ Bauer, Michael (May 10, 2015). "Ramen Shop". San Francisco Chronicle.
  31. ^ "Best Chez Panisse Spin-Off – Cosecha Mexican Cafe". East Bay Express.
  32. ^ Theroux, Jessica (10 May 2012). "The Food Networks: Boulettes Larder". Paper.
  33. ^ Michael Bauer (2008-08-10). "In the spirit of Chez Panisse". San Francisco Chronicle.
  34. ^ "Foodie Chap With Chef Joanne Weir". CBS SF bay Area.
  35. ^ "Alice Waters Biography". Retrieved 2010-10-27.
  36. ^ Number 12 in 2003, Number 20 in 2006, number 69 in 2010"The World's Best Restaurants. 2006". Restaurant magazine. William Reed Publishing Ltd. Archived from the original on 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2010-10-27. Number 40 in 2007,"The World's Best Restaurants. 2007". Archived from the original on 2007-04-24. Retrieved 2007-04-24. and #37 in 2008.
  37. ^ Finz, Stacy (2007-10-24). "What's New: Who's in, who's out in second Michelin guide". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  38. ^ Birdsall, John (October 27, 2010). "Michelin's Stripping Chez Panisse of Its Star No Ding on Alice". SF Weekly. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
  39. ^ "Alice Waters – 2007". Restaurant Magazine. William Reed Publishing Ltd. Archived from the original on 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
  40. ^ Robert Lauriston (2007-09-26). "Pizza Smackdown:SoCal chain goes head to head with hometown favorite". San Francisco Weekly. Archived from the original on December 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
  41. ^ Severson, Kim (2006-10-18). "For American Chèvre, An Era Ends". The New York Times.
  42. ^ At Chez Panisse, It's Time for Tap Water NPR's All Things Considered, March 22, 2007

External linksEdit