“When did farm-to-table become too good for us chip-eating-plebeians?” This is the controversial question I posed to Scout as he hopped onto the couch and interrupted my morning coffee with the declaration that he needed to write right now. I asked him what he needed “right right now” and, with an irritated thump of his foot, he insisted that he needed to “WRITE right now”. I told him that there’s no need to be repetitive and he was just about to clarify when he remembered my affinity for puns.
It’s really a great deal to take on for a Friday morning: Scout’s first official blog post dictated to me (Anna of Team Frymire) and Chez Panisse. He was insistent, however, that we begin with a restaurant that encompasses such a large part of his food philosophy. I must admit that I was a little hurt as Scout relayed to me that the bold, adventurous, and intelligent woman he most admires in this world is Alice Waters. I reminded Scout that it’s me who’s benevolently typing this up for him, but he carried right on telling me to type faster.
I suppose I can’t be too disappointed to have lost the popularity contest to Alice Waters. As a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, Alice Waters has beautifully melded food and social change. This should come as no surprise since Alice Waters is a founder of the farm to table movement.
Alice Waters has beautifully melded food and social change.
Alice (as Scout refers to her… just “Alice”) has changed the culinary paradigm and given chefs and guests alike a taste of her “slow food”. These slow food dishes are created with only the tastiest local, seasonal ingredients. Alright, I concede. Alice Waters is kind of a food goddess. (But I’m the cereal-for-dinner goddess and Alice can never take that from me.)
Sublime, Tree, and Fort
When Scout thinks back to his recent Thursday dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, the words that come to mind are: sublime, tree, and fort. Our reservation was for the downstairs dining room which is important to note since Chez Panisse has two dining rooms that offer two separate menus. Upstairs dining is more casual and affordable (maybe). Downstairs dining is a “white linen experience”, as Scout put it. (Scout tip: It’s easy to review the menus in advance. Just go to the artful Chez Panisse website.)
The Part Where We Sat Down
Onto the actual Thursday evening at Chez Panisse! The trio (Team Frymire and Scout) arrived in style. We were among the small, elite club of nearly overdressed patrons. We were, after all, in Berkeley where “come as you are” is less of a mantra and more of a rule. (In case you’re wondering, Daniel wore blue jeans with a blazer and Anna wore a cotton sheath dress with ankle boots by Tar-get. In true Berkeley fashion, Scout came as he was because, in his words, “a sophisticated fur coat never goes out of style.”) Any discomfort we felt about being overdressed subsided as soon as we entered the dining room. The twilight poured in through the stain glass windows onto the unassuming but elegant wood benches. This room… this perfect room… was simultaneously impressive and friendly. (Oh Alice… You queen of comfort you.) If you think Scout and I exaggerate, just take a look at the beautifully understated menus.
The Part About Bread
As Scout perused the culinary offerings in the menu, he reminded Daniel and I that a truly great restaurant doesn’t require an extensive menu and that it’s really to all of our benefit that Chez Panisse exclusively offers a Chef’s menu in the downstairs dining room. As we nodded in polite agreement and emotionally prepared for the most delicious (and bankrupting) meal of the year, I interjected with a, “But what about food allergies, Scout?” (Being locked into a meal kind of scares me. Call it “food claustrophobia”.) Scout sighed since he’s ALL too familiar with my family’s food allergies and assured me that substitutions can be requested in advance, but should only be done so if absolutely necessary.
Apparently, my subsequent nod-of-understanding wasn’t adequate since Scout went on to explain that altering a chef’s recipe is like painting a stroke right down the center of a Van Gogh to which I declared, “That’s EXACTLY what Bob Ross did with his happy trees!” Both of Scout’s ears shot straight up (a rare, alarming occurrence signaling imminent danger and death) and he was about to lecture me when BREAD arrived. Let’s just be clear on something: when Team Frymire and Scout are out for a meal, e v e r y t h i n g stops for bread.
“Look at that MUG!!!” No, not you, reader. Sorry. That was for Scout. Our coffee mugs here at home are empty so, obviously, all writing inspiration has ceased. We’re off to make more coffee and start our workday so we’ll have to catch up on the rest later. In the meantime, have you been to Chez Panisse? Do you love Berkeley as much as we think we do? Leave us a comment and stop by again for “Farm to Berkeley Part Two“…