United States

Chez Panisse: An outstanding organic pioneer

Introduction to Chez Panisse

We were preparing for an overseas work trip in mid-1985, when Sue added a complication into our proposed itinerary. We were originally planning to fly first to the United States to attend an IT conference in Norfolk, Virginia. We also had IT contacts in Washington DC, New York and Boston and, as always, we had planned to visit restaurants in the evenings to broaden our food education.

Where we weren’t planning to spend any time was San Francisco. However, Sue was adamant that there was a restaurant that we really should be visiting there. The name was Chez Panisse, a restaurant that was known locally but was not famous world wide at the time. So we changes our itinerary and visited the restaurant in Berkeley.

Chez Panisse: Our first visit

On this visit we were presented with a menu that you would expect to be very boring. However we had done quite a bit of research by this time and knew that the owner, Alice Waters, was encouraging local farmers to grow organic vegetables and fruit for her to use in the restaurant.

This seemed to us to be a worthy endeavour even though we had witnessed very little of this in Australia at the time. There were definitely good restaurants in Australia, however they often contorted the food (three fillets of fish plaited into a contorted shape, for example), and rarely using organic produce.

So we arrived with great expectations not realising the impact the meal would have on our future lives. The meal that we experienced was one of apparent simplicity.

We had chicken and sweet corn soup. The corn had obviously been picked the same day – absolutely essential if it is to give that sweet, nutty fresh flavour. This dish, as with all that followed, was also seasoned perfectly.

Then we had pizza. Once again, a perfectly thin slice of dough with lovely fresh lobster that had been just cooked through – simple and perfect.

Then we had roast chicken. Great free-range chicken that had been roasted to perfection.

And we finished with vanilla ice-cream served with a slice of perfectly fresh peach. Once again, a dish such as this can only be served if the produce is fresh and flavoursome which organic growing is the key.

So we learned a lot from this meal and we have been searching for the perfection of simplicity ever since. This is why we keep going back!

After Chez Panisse

As an aside, we finished the trip by driving across northern Greece and having three food experiences that were utterly simple and utterly compelling. The first was a skewer of lamb that was seasoned purely with salt flakes in the Thessaloniki market. It was perfection!

The second was a plate of grilled octopus at a tiny cafe on the Chalcidice peninsular near the town of Ouranoupoli. The octopus had been grilled over an open charcoal fire and was served with a single wedge of lemon.

The final meal was in Kavala in another tiny restaurant near the beach where we were served a grilled (over charcoal) red mullet without any accompaniment, It was totally delicious but, at the urging of the locals, we definitely drank too much of the local retsina that night!

Additional information

Street: 1517 Shattuck Ave

Town/Suburb: Berkeley, 94709

State: California, USA

Phone number: +1 510-548-5525

Opening hours: Lunch and dinner Mon – Sat

You can see more about Chez Panisse and check on their opening hours by clicking on the link to their Web site below:
Chez Panisse Web site