I just got back from a month and a half in Berkeley, California, working at Chez Panisse, Alice Water’s restaurant. I got the connection through my job last year working in a farm in San Diego (Chino farm), they send out boxes of produce every two weeks up to Chez Panisse and have been friends with Alice for long time. Through them I got her contact, and met her in Turin last year during the slow food fair. Alice is the vice president of Slow Food Usa, and she is known to be founder of the Farm to table movement in the states. Also, she started a big project called the Edible Schoolyard project, and is very involved in social and political food issues around the states and internationally.
She opened Chez Panisse when she was 27 years old, after travelling in France and receiving her Montessori teaching certificate. The initial intention was to keep cooking food for friends and family but just for a bigger crowd, and soon the restaurant became famous, today it serves all organic, seasonal, local and very traditional based food. This year, it celebrated its 46th birthday. Alice doesn’t cook in the restaurant anymore, but she is still very present and knows what’s going on and what is being served each week. Whenever she isn’t travelling she comes in and “checks” on things, trying the menu foods, giving advice and critiques.
Alice is a legend and one of those people I “look up” to since I found out about her. I contacted her at the beginning of this year, asking her if I could be of any help to her in any way during my summer break. I didn’t mention anything about working in the kitchen, I was open to do whatever, I even offered to be her personal assistant. I got a reply right away from her and couple hours later also from the head chef. Within two days an internship in the restaurant was organized. It felt so great and the fact I got an answer so quickly gave me such a positive feeling about it! (Last year, I tried getting an internship in a much less known restaurant and it took me two months and a lot of emails..)
Chez Panisse is located on the main street of north Berkeley, which is a 30 min subway ride from San Francisco. It is considered the most liberal-minded town in America (more than San Francisco), home to the counterculture hippie movement of the sixties. Still today, Berkeley is full of students going to Cal, and alternative minded people.
Downstairs is the restaurant, which serves about 90 people a night divided into 2 seatings and has always been on a fixed menu (customers have to reserve at least 2 or 3 weeks in advance). While upstairs is the cafe, which is open for both lunch and dinner, there is an open menu, it’s more casual and serves more tables.
I interned the whole time in the downstairs part. The downstairs team is small and composed of only 4 chefs plus the head chef (and the interns, usually 1 or 2). It was an amazing experience and I learned so much. Continue reading