Forty Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering

Alice Waters, Author, Michael Pollan, Afterword by, Calvin Trillin, Foreword by
Alice Waters and friends. Clarkson Potter, $55 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-71826-6
Reviewed on: 07/04/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
Book - 303 pages - 978-0-307-95336-0
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There are no recipes to speak of in this narrative history of Chez Panisse, the iconic Berkeley, Calif., restaurant that redefined American dining—but the rich store of anecdotes, poetry, and artwork are flavorful and satisfying on their own. Equally inspired by the Free Speech Movement on the UC Berkeley campus and her travels to France in the 1960s, Waters began hosting dinner parties at her home as a young woman and publishing her favorite recipes in the San Francisco Express Times. This was all groundwork for the eatery she opened in 1971 with writer Greil Marcus as an investor. From the outset Chez Panisse was a gathering place for the creative and politically minded, attracting adventuresome diners with its novel fixed-price, daily changing menu. Ruth Reichl recalls her earliest meal there—rosé, anchovies, and cheese—and the inspiration she drew for her own cooking from Waters's sophisticated kitchen. Other recollections are supplied by vintners, food writers, servers, foragers, wine merchants, and chefs who all crossed paths with the restaurant, either as customers or employees. Photos of late-night dance parties, celebrity visits, and chefs in the kitchen are included, as are still images from the Les Blank film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, which was filmed on site (the shoe was cooked in duck fat) after Herzog lost a bet. Special celebration menus, cookbook covers, event posters, and accounts of the restaurant's community service over the years are layered onto the scrapbook-style collage. Fans of Waters' cooking, modern-day slow food adherents, and anyone interested in 1970s counterculture California will enjoy this behind-the-scenes account of a legend in the making. Photos. (Aug.)
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