It is not an understatement to say that Chez Panisse and trailblazer proprietor Alice Waters created culinary history here in Berkeley in 1971. After returning from a junior year abroad in France, Alice dreamed of recreating her culinary experiences. Little did she know that 30 years later Chez Panisse would be declared the best restaurant in the USA by Gourmet magazine and become the beacon of the slow food movement.
The success of Chez Panisse was "a sheer miracle, really" according to Waters. With almost no restaurant or business experience, through pure force of will, her vision of "an easygoing place where friends laugh, argue, flirt, and drink wine for hours on end - and have something simple to eat" came to life, and then forever changed the way many of us eat. From popularizing organic farming and humane animal husbandry methods to demonstrating how delicious foods picked at their peak of freshness can be, it is impossible to measure Alice Waters’ influence.
McNamee puts it best in his book, above, "...for many people, including many who will never eat there, Chez Panisse is a much larger enterprise than a restaurant. It is a standard-bearer for a system of moral values. It is the leader of a style of cooking, of a social movement, and of a comprehensive philosophy of doing good and living well. It is also a work of art - the work of many, the masterpiece of one."
Long before Silicon Valley popularized business accelerators, Chez Panisse has been an incubator for dozens of future enterprises - executive chef Paul Bertolli went on the establish Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods, chef Scott Rochino founded The Local Butcher Shop, Acme bread was launched by former employees. Far from competing with Chez Panisse, these businesses exist symbiotically and are reliable suppliers, creating synergy and expanding the beneficence of Chez Panisse to their farmers, suppliers, and customers.