In 1971, Alice Waters and some friends opened a neighborhood bistro in Berkeley with the aim of serving meals with the food and atmosphere of a home dinner party. Forty years later, the way the nation eats has been dramatically changed by Chez Panisse. We talk with local chefs and food writers about the impact Chez Panisse has had on the local and national food scene.

Michael Bauer, executive food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The San Francisco Chronicle and member of the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Awards Committee
Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse
Charlie Hallowell, chef and owner of Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland
Russell Moore, chef and owner of Camino Restaurant in Oakland

  • NancySF

    It bothers me that Alice Waters gets so much of the credit for the “new” food scene.  Growing up in California in a poor immigrant family, my parents, because of “old world traditions”, ate only fresh in season food, as well as had most of our green space at home producing only the best fruit and produce.   We always looked for farmers or markets that had real food (like Alemeny)– but not as costly as the Ferry Building.  My husband’s family was the same way.  His grandfather was a farmer, and although my husband’s father did not become a farmer, his family cared very much about what was food that was fresh and seasonal.  I think a lot of this food movement comes from reaching back to our roots.  Enjoying things the simple way, instead of the complexity of all the choices of food (grown everywhere in the world).  I think Alice Waters should get credit for making this an real food an expensive revolution.  My husband and I joke about being able to eat well and cook with our friends without never going to Chez Panisse and dropping hundreds of dollars.  As it is, we hardly eat at the celebrated restaurants because of the costs.  We consider ourselves middle class– as public school educators.  It’s disappointing that Chez Panisse has set the bar for people thinking that good and real food should be as expensive as her restaurant.  Thank God for the new gourmet roach-coach trend… but that’s another topic.

    • Shac

      I think you are right in a way.  Alice Waters reminded us Americans that had been raised on TV dinners and fast food that fresh food was much much better.  And you’re lucky you can get and cook fresh food (many immigrant communities have much fresher veggies etc available to them), which I think wasn’t available to suburbia until the recent farmers market phenomena.  I refused to eat tomatoes my whole life, until I ate at Chez Panisse the first time and then I realized I had been eating the wrong tomatoes, so now I grow my own.  And that’s what Chez Panisse gave me. 

    • Jennifer C Brenner

      I would like to respectfully disagree. In the 80s working as a waiter for Chez Panisse, Alice told us to buy organic always if possible. She also told us to plant container gardens to grow food. At the time buying organic was pretty impossible because of high cost and  lack of availability- but now look! Organic, sustainable and local are always available- both at high and low cost . Alice wanted her cafe to be a place where the artists and other working people she respected could come, gather and eat a good food. Cheap. Then it blew up, but If not for her, your gourmet roach-coach trend might have never made it mainstream. She gets credit for bringing the importance of simple ,real food a common pleasure.

  • Leslie

    Eating at Chez Panisse was the best dining experience of my life. Thank you for creating a great restaurant that feels unpretentious. The only problem is my husband keeps asking me if I can replicate the great spring salad we had. Only in my dreams.

  • I love Alice Waters and she has definitely been a huge influence on me.  I do 90% of my shopping at the Berkeley farmers market.  Speaking of Berkeley, what do you think makes Berkeley so unique in all it’s yummy offerings.  From 2 Berkeley Bowls, monterey Market, 4 andronico’s, a whole foods, numerous bakeries, etc.?  

  • Betsy

    I recently had the pleasure of eating again at the Chez Panisse Cafe for my birthday and, as always, was delighted with a great meal.  The eggplant parmesan was delicately flavored, not greasy and very satisfying.  You could taste each of the ingredients separately and together they sang.  For dessert, I had the most perfectly ripened peach with raspberries–reminded me of what fruit is supposed to taste like.

  • Carollinney

    I went to chez panisse once expecting a fabulous treat but I. Must say I was extremely disappointed. I had a beef pasta dish and it was drab, really an ugly plate. There was no color, just beige everywhere. Aren’t visual aesthetics taken into consideration?

  • Allen Rozelle

    Happy Birthday, Alice!  Bon anniversaire, Panisse!

  • Caroline

    Chez Panisse and Alice Waters are idolized as the front runner in California for the sustainable food movement. There are so many other people that have helped the movement and they should be recognized as well (City Slicker Farms, People’s Grocery). Growing up in the Bay Area, I have aspired to cook and live like Alice Waters. Her cookbooks and cuisine are so simplistic and make a person think about where there food is coming from. I love to cook and bake but have decided to pursue a masters focusing on sustainable agriculture so as to help everyone. I’m on small budget and grow my own veggies and go to farmer’s markets (there is cheap produce available) and the bulk bins. Take time, enjoy the process, and the food will turn out like that at Chez Panisse. Although it’s great that she has set up school gardens, as a 22 year old, Chez Panisse is way out of my price range. So I value her ideology and appreciate what she has done for the food movement. 

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor