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Chez Panisse
The front entrance to Chez Panisse
Restaurant information
Established 1971
Current owner(s) Alice Waters
Food type Local/organic, California
City Berkeley
State California
Country United States

Chez Panisse is a Berkeley, California, restaurant, known as one of the inspirations for the style of cooking known as California cuisine. Restaurateur, author and food activist Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 with film producer Paul Aratow, then professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. The restaurant emphasises ingredients rather than technique and has developed a supply network of direct relationships with local farmers, ranchers and dairies.


In 1971, Paul Aratow and Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse in a long-neglected, two-story, mixed-use building on Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley, California. The restaurant was designed to be intimate and comfortable. Chez Panisse is named for Honoré Panisse, a character in a trilogy of Marcel Pagnol films about working-class life in Marseille, France called Marius, Fanny and César.

From the beginning, the restaurant has been lauded as an eatery that uses the highest-quality produce, meat and seafood available. Today, Waters insists on procuring ingredients that are locally, organically and sustainably grown. The menu is dictated by what is fresh and in season and the restaurant has a network of farmers, ranchers and dairies. The restaurant states:

Alice and Chez Panisse are convinced that the best-tasting food is organically and locally grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. The quest for such ingredients has always determined the restaurant's cuisine. Since 1971, Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight out of the sea. In doing so, Chez Panisse has established a network of nearby suppliers who, like the restaurant, are striving for both environmental harmony and delicious flavor.

The restaurant has always served a set menu that changes daily and reflects the season's bounty. Monday nights at the restaurant generally feature more rustic or regional dishes, such as a lamb tagine or fisherman's stew, in addition to a first course and dessert. Tuesday through Thursday, the restaurant serves a 4-course set dinner menu, including dessert. On Friday and Saturday evenings, a more elaborate 4-course meal is served. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

In 1980, Waters and her partners/shareholders opened the Chez Panisse Café, which offers an alternative to the set menu of the downstairs restaurant. The upstairs café features the same local, organic ingredients as the restaurant, but the menu is a la carte and more modestly priced than the set menu of the restaurant. The upstairs menu also changes daily, offering selections of appetizers, main courses and desserts. While the restaurant serves only dinner, the café is open for both lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday. The upstairs café has its own kitchen, which includes a charcoal grill and wood-burning pizza oven, although much of the prep work for the cafe is done in the main downstairs kitchen.


The restaurant and café have their own chefs and are run separately. The restaurant has two head chefs, Amy Dencler and Jennifer Sherman. The cafe has two chefs, Beth Wells and Nathan Alderson, and many other cooks and interns working in the kitchen. The pastry kitchen is run by chefs Carrie Lewis and Mary Jo Thoresen. Alice Waters has served as the executive chef at Chez Panisse for more than 50 years, although her role has changed over the years. She is currently no longer in the kitchen every day. Instead, she does tastings, provides input on menus and is in charge of the operations of the restaurant and the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds the Edible Schoolyard, in Berkeley, that Waters founded in 1996.

Inspirations and history

Chez Panisse cafe kitchen
The Chez Panisse downstairs kitchen and dining room

Originally, Chez Panisse was designed to cultivate the atmosphere of an intimate dinner party, with hosts who paid attention even to the smallest details of the dining experience and guests who enjoyed the same meal around the table. As a participant in the Free Speech Movement that swept UC Berkeley's campus in the 1960s, Waters learned to love cooking for others while she hosted gatherings to discuss politics with her peers.

The culinary influences for Chez Panisse were largely French, inspired by the 1920s cookbook of French cuisine bourgeoise, La bonne cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange. This book has been translated into English by Paul Aratow, who was also the first chef de cuisine at Chez Panisse. Although Waters never preferred the fancy and predictable restaurants of Paris, she became enamored with the small, country restaurants of France that cooked whatever was fresh that day and created menus based on what the market had to offer. She first traveled to France as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, where she majored in French Cultural Studies, and immediately was drawn to the food and market culture around her. In particular, Waters found inspiration from Lulu and Lucien Peyraud, owners of the Domaine Tempier vineyard in Bandol, in the south of France. Their enjoyment of food and wine and their simple preparations of the fresh, local produce had strong influence on the food and atmosphere of Chez Panisse. Aratow had lived for years in Italy and France, exploring the language, cuisine and culture of both countries and had a talent for hands-on culinary craftsmanship. He also designed and supervised the transition of an ordinary two-story apartment house into the restaurant structure, working with the carpenters on a limited budget.

In addition to Waters' travels in France, the writings of Richard Olney, an American cook who spent most of his life in France and of Elizabeth David, a British cook and food writer, served as inspirations for the restaurant's menu.

Waters wrote in 1980:

Chez Panisse began with our doing the very best we could do with French recipes and California ingredients, and has evolved into what I like to think of as a celebration of the very finest of our regional food products. The recipes of Elizabeth David and Richard Olney provided a starting point and inspiration to us; and we soon realized that the similarity of California's climate to that of the south of France gives us similar products that require different interpretations and executions. My one unbreakable rule has always been to use only the freshest and finest ingredients available.

In 1971, Waters and Aratow opened the restaurant to a twice-sold-out house. Victoria Wise served as the first chef, and Lindsey Shere, a friend of Alice's, was the pastry chef.

Due to Waters' insistence on using the highest-quality ingredients available regardless of cost, coupled with her lack of experience working in (not to mention running) a restaurant, Chez Panisse struggled financially for many years. Nonetheless, Waters and Aratow continued, cooking country French-inspired meals with local California ingredients. In the process, Waters and the restaurant began building up their network of local producers, which continues to provide the restaurant with the majority of its ingredients today.

In 1972, Jeremiah Tower became the chef de cuisine of Chez Panisse, replacing Victoria Wise. While at Chez Panisse he was in charge of the kitchen and the menus. He left in 1978 and went on to open Santa Fe Bar and Grill and Stars in San Francisco, in the 1980s. He, along with Alice Waters, Paul Aratow and several other chefs are often credited with creating the style of cooking known as "California Cuisine." Paul Bertolli served as the head chef of Chez Panisse from 1982 to 1992. With Waters, Bertolli co-wrote the cookbook Chez Panisse Cooking. He later went on to become the head chef of Oliveto, an Italian restaurant in Oakland, California, and now owns the salumi company Fra'mani.

Jean-Pierre Moulle, who was trained in classical French cooking, joined the Chez Panisse kitchen in 1975 as Jeremiah Towers' sous chef and eventually worked his way to head chef. He retired in 2012.

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 (principally by the great cabinetmaker, designer and builder Kip Mesirow) 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 premiere of the film Gates of Heaven, an event recorded in the documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

Alice Waters also ensured that the restaurant's publicity materials should be examples of fine printing.

On March 8, 2013, Chez Panisse was once again damaged by a fire that scorched the front patio and façade of the restaurant. The fire resulted in a four-month closure of the restaurant, during which the front portion of the restaurant was rebuilt.



Beyond its broad influence on American cuisine, many former Chez Panisse staff members have become prominent chefs or founded notable food-related businesses:

  • Acme Bread Company, a pioneer of the artisan bread movement and the restaurant's bread supplier, whose founder was the restaurant's first in-house baker from 1979–1983.
  • Dianne Dexter, founder of Artisan baker Metropolis Bread Company, was pastry chef at Chez Panisse.
  • Head chef Jeremiah Tower, whose first professional cooking job was at Chez Panisse, later opened the landmark Stars and is along with Waters and Wolfgang Puck credited with inventing California Cuisine.
  • Mark Miller, chef after Jeremiah Tower, left for Berkeley's Santa Fe Bar and Grill, then later opened the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico as the first of a string of Southwestern-themed restaurants throughout the United States, including a Coyote Cafe in Las Vegas, Nevada and Red Sage in Washington, DC.
  • Paul Bertolli, Chef from 1982–1992, was executive chef of Oliveto in Oakland, California from 1993 until 2005 before forming Fra' Mani, a maker of Salumi for wholesale and retail sales.
  • Judy Rodgers and Gilbert Pilgram, the two chef-owners of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, California, are both alumni of Chez Panisse.
  • Deborah Madison, who worked with Judy Rodgers at lunchtime, later opened Greens Restaurant and became a cookbook star.
  • Peggy Smith ran the cafe at Chez Panisse from 1980 to 1997, before leaving to form Cowgirl Creamery, maker of cheeses including Red Hawk, as well as a cheese retailer in the Bay Area and Washington, DC.
  • Lindsey Remolif Shere, pastry chef from the restaurant's founding until her retirement in 1997, along with daughter Thérèse, and friend Kathleen Stewart (also of Chez Panisse), opened Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg, California in 1987. She was the recipient of the Outstanding Pastry Chef James Beard Foundation Award in1993.
  • Jonathan Waxman, after getting his start at Chez Panisse, opened Michael's in Santa Monica, California, Jams, Buds, Hulot's, Washington Park, and Barbuto in New York City (where he partnered with and mentored future Food Network star Bobby Flay), Jams in London, England, and Table 29 in Napa, California.
  • Suzanne Goin, owner of AOC, Lucques and The Hungry Cat in Los Angeles, "was a standout" at Chez Panisse.
  • Joyce Goldstein of Square One in San Francisco was the executive chef at Chez Panisse for three years.
  • Michael Tusk, chef and co-owner of Quince in San Francisco, got his start at Chez Panisse.
  • Dan Barber, owner of the Blue Hill restaurants in New York, interned at Chez Panisse.
  • Mark Peel, of Campanile Restaurant in Los Angeles worked a short stint at Chez Panisse.
  • April Bloomfield, the head chef of The Spotted Pig in New York City, apprenticed at Chez Panisse.

Several Chez Panisse alumni have become notable food writers and cookbook authors:

  • David Lebovitz, author of several cookbooks and a popular food blog, worked in pastry at Chez Panisse.
  • Samin Nosrat, James Beard Award winner for her book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and presenter on the Netflix television series of the same name.
  • Andy Baraghani, Senior Food Editor for Bon Appétit magazine.

There are many restaurants and business in the Bay Area run by Chez Panisse alumni:

  • Victoria Wise cooked the first-ever meal at Chez Panisse, and she went on to found Pig-by-the-Tail, a charcuterie which helped further define Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto.
  • Chez Panisse alumni Richard Mazzera, Dennis Lapuyade, and Stephen Singer, who in 1998 founded César, a popular tapas restaurant next door
  • Mary Canales, former pastry chef, owns and operates Ici, a gourmet ice creamery in Berkeley, CA.
  • Mary Jo Thoresen, pastry chef and co-owner of Jojo in Oakland, worked at Chez Panisse for twelve years.
  • Charlie Hallowell, chef-owner of Pizzaiolo in Oakland, worked at Chez Panisse for eight years.
  • Gayle Pirie, co-owner of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, was Alice Water's assistant from 1993 to 1997.
  • Christopher Lee, chef and owner of eccolo in Berkeley, cooked at Chez Panisse for 16 years.
  • Alison Barakat, co-owner of Bakesale Betty in Oakland, spent three years at Chez Panisse.
  • Ramen Shop's (Oakland) owners Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman and Sam White, are all Chez Panisse alumni.
  • Dominica Rice-Cisneros of Cosecha in Oakland.
  • Amaryll Schwertner of Boulettes Larder in San Francisco.
  • Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain of Camino in Oakland.
  • Joanne Weir opened Copita, a modern Mexican restaurant and tequileria, in 2012, in Sausalito, California.
  • Shaun O’Sullivan, after a very brief stint at Chez Panisse in 1993, opened the 21st Amendment Brewery in 2000 with Nico Freccia, an alum of Zuni Café.

Awards and recognition

In 2001, Gourmet magazine named Chez Panisse the Best Restaurant in America. From 2002 to 2008 it was ranked by Restaurant magazine as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world and was ranked number 12 in 2003. Michelin awarded the restaurant a one-star rating in its guide to San Francisco Bay Area dining from 2006 through 2009. In 2007, Alice Waters won Restaurant Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award, and was cited as one of the most influential figures in American cooking over the past 50 years.

Culinary innovations

  • California-style pizza, baked in an in-house pizza oven and topped with a variety of local ingredients, was created at the cafe in 1980.
  • Goat Cheese Salad: first offered in the late 1970s, the salad contains rounds of chèvre marinated in olive oil and herbs, coated in bread crumbs, and baked, served with lightly dressed mesclun.
  • In-house carbonated tap water: this filtered version of the East Bay Municipal Utility District offering first replaced conventional bottled water at the restaurant in summer 2006.
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