Some revolutions start with a manifesto. But Alice Waters – chef, author and proprietor of Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse – began changing how Americans eat by using a menu.
Back in 1971, diners at Chez Panisse lacked the terminology to describe the food they were tasting. It would be years until terms like 'California cuisine,' 'certified organic,' and 'locavore' were coined. But who needs words when you have such a meal? Alice Waters made US food a pure pleasure. Here’s her itinerary for savoring some of the best the Bay Area has to offer.
Your culinary journey begins down on the farm – the inspiration for Chez Panisse’s menu, and most California gastronomic triumphs since. At Petaluma’s Green String Farm, owner Bob Cannard has pioneered sustainable farming in the North Bay for 30 years. You can taste the chemical-free fruits of his labors at Green String’s farm store.
With ingredients from Green String you’ve got the beginnings of an exemplary picnic. To complete the feast, take the Point Reyes–Petaluma Rd to Point Reyes Station, home to a pair of North Bay food artisans who earn raves from Waters.
Point Reyes Station may look like a sleepy cow-town, but at 3am baker Celine Underwood is stoking her wood-fired brick oven. Her dedication yields Brickmaiden bread, a Waters favorite sold at nearby Bovine Bakery. With loaf under arm, head to the restored barn that houses Cowgirl Creamery, another Waters staple. In spring, try the St Pat’s, a smooth, mellow round that comes wrapped in nettle leaves.
An idyllic picnic spot awaits 10 minutes north of Point Reyes Station, at the salty turnout for the Hog Island Oyster Company. Silky oysters are available to go by the pound but, to Waters, “there’s nothing better than eating them right there on the beach.” For a fee you can arrange for a table and borrow some shucking tools.
After lunch, wind your way down Hwy 1 into San Francisco. From the Golden Gate Bridge it’s possible to view the clock tower of the city’s Ferry Building Marketplace, which hosts not only a broad selection of gourmet organic produce but is also a one-stop destination for many of Waters’ recommendations. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays year-round, the Ferry Building is encircled by up to 82 family farmers and 42 food artisans. This bounty may seem like an embarrassment of riches – but not to Waters. 'We have to start looking at food as a right and not a privilege,' she says flatly. 'That is important.'
To stay within skipping distance of the Ferry Building, check in to the bay-front luxury Hotel Vitale. Those worn out from all the organic veggie hunting can blow off some steam in the rooftop soaking tubs surrounded by a bamboo forest – with local, seasonal bath products, of course.
For dinner, you’re spoiled for options. Zuni Café is a San Francisco institution, and a place Waters calls her 'home away from home.' She’ll quickly admit that it’s a distinctively different atmosphere than the one at Chez Panisse, but adds, 'Zuni is run in the right spirit. It’s real food.' By the way she offers these straightforward compliments it’s clear that a declaration of 'real food' is her highest praise. It’s not doled out often but reserved for a select handful of like-minded chefs in what she calls 'the cause.'
For the East Bay branch of the foodie revolution, head across the Bay Bridge and claim your rightful place at the 30ft communal table at Camino. A 20-year veteran at Chez Panisse, chef Russell Moore brings farm-fresh food to Oakland in a converted furniture showroom. The massive central fireplace isn’t just there for looks: wood-fired meats and pizzas are pulled sizzling from the flames. As Waters says with relish, 'Russell is a purist.'
Or, go to the place that started it all. For the sunny, California-grown flavors that redefine 'good food,' head to Chez Panisse in Berkeley. It’s casual and unpretentious, and every mind-altering bite of the food served in the dining room downstairs and the less formal café upstairs is emblematic of Waters’ principles. The service is impeccable, the atmosphere is comfortably elegant and the kitchen is open for a peek behind the scenes.
The full effect of Chez Panisse may hit the next day when, in the thrall of culinary inspiration, you find yourself at the Berkeley farmers’ market. Don’t be surprised to find Alice Waters here, in her element and in raptures. 'You have to try Prima Vera’s organic tortillas,' she urges, 'and Annabelle’s stand [La Tercera] has wonderful Italian greens. Oh, that puntarella….'
Enough said: by now your tastebuds are standing at attention, ready to join the revolution.
- Nate Cavalieri & Alison Bing