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Chez Panisse is a Berkeley, California restaurant known as the birthplace of California cuisine, a style credited to its co-founder, Alice Waters.

The restaurant is located in the north Berkeley neighborhood known locally as the "Gourmet ghetto". Chez Panisse has been listed by Restaurant magazine from 2006 to 2008 as one of the top fifty restaurants in the world. In 2006 and 2007, Michelin awarded the restaurant a one-star rating in its guide to San Francisco Bay Area dining.

Named after a character in a Marcel Pagnol film trilogy, Chez Panisse grew out of Waters' interest in the possibilities of using fresh, locally grown ingredients, inspired by her 1965 visit to France, where she ostensibly went to study at the Sorbonne but was seduced by the cuisine. A trip to the south of France that spring, with its cooking based on fresh herbs, vegetables and olive oil, would prove especially influential, as would a visit to Brittany, where she ate fresh mussels and buckwheat crêpes and dined at a small restaurant in an old stone house that crystallized her sense of what good food could be. Waters was influenced less by grand Parisian restaurants that served a predictable menu than by more modest establishments whose chefs visited the markets each day and invented the meal on the spot. La cuisine du marché, market cooking, relies on improvisation and experimentation and puts shopping on an equal footing with technique.

After Waters returned to Berkeley, she cooked for friends by combining French cooking techniques with ingredients grown nearby and in season, rather than imported or frozen. She co-founded the restaurant in 1971 with Paul Aratow, who taught comparative literature at the University of California and had lived extensively in France. He planned the reconstruction of an old Berkeley apartment house, supervised the construction of the restaurant, managed the kitchen and "back-of-house" and was the original chef de cuisine. Aratow derived his extensive knowledge of cooking from the classic French cookbook, La bonne cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, which he translated into English years later (Ten Speed Press). Aratow sold his share of Chez Panisse after a few years when he moved to Los Angeles to become a film producer.

Chez Panisse now consists of a downstairs restaurant serving a daily fixed-price dining menu and an upstairs cafe with a less expensive menu and a more informal atmosphere. With the restaurant's fame, the cafe has come to embody Waters' original idea for Chez Panisse as a place to hang out with friends.

Over the years, Waters' role at Chez Panisse has been that of proprietor, iron-willed visionary, and taster-in-chief, rather than chef or businesswoman. 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 came within 10 minutes of destroying the building. Influenced by the book A Pattern Language, Waters collaborated with co-author Christopher Alexander on a redesign that removed the partially burned wall previously separating the kitchen from the dining room. 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 premier of the film Gates of Heaven, an event recorded in the documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.
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Quick Tip by . March 04, 2010
posted in Secret Berkeley
Chez Panisse is one of those must-experience-in Berkeley! (at least once)
Quick Tip by . March 04, 2010
Chez Panisse is one of those must-experience-in Berkeley! (at least once)
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