World-famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley celebrates 50 years

Bay Area

BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) – Fifty years ago, few people even heard the phrases organic, fresh food, farm to table, and pesticide-free eating — But little did we know, a movement was brewing in Berkeley dedicated to pulling us away from fast and processed foods with a seemingly revolutionary idea of getting back to basics.

Alice Waters, a diminutive but powerhouse of a woman, opened the doors of her now world-famous Chez Panisse restaurant in 1971 and helped start a movement.

She calls herself a food activist and so does her daughter.

Each has a new book and KRON4 talked with them about Waters’ groundbreaking work, the future of food, and her drive to change the fast-food culture.

It’s been five decades since her world-renowned Chez Panisse restaurant opened in Berkeley. 

Alice Waters is still on fresh food, farm to table mission and her daughter Fanny Singer is on this mission with her — a mission born at Chez Panisse 50 years ago.

“I’m feeling very grateful,” Waters said. “Maybe we’re going to be able to pass those values to the next generation.”

“I just feel very sentimental and very proud of my mom and also all the people who’ve made that institution an institution,” Singer said. “She has taken a vision of the restaurant and expanded it so much.”

Chez Panisse has been the backdrop for her passion pushing the nation away from fast food and processed foods culture and back to basics: Seasonal, fresh, pesticide-free, homegrown,  and farmers market type eating.

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money,” Waters said.

Over the last sixty years, Waters says, we have been brainwashed about food and told cooking is drudgery. Her new book, ‘We Are What We Eat,’ is her latest call to action.

“It’s something really shocking to think how we’ve been manipulated in every way by fast-food culture,” Waters said. “It’s not just about malnourishment. They tell you, food should be fast, cheap, and easy. Everything should be available all the time. We figure it’s ok to waste just throw it away.”

Everybody says fresh healthy eating is too expensive but Waters disagrees.

She says people can start by shopping at local farmers’ markets like this one, or growing community or home gardens. She says teaching young people these fresh food values early in schools is key to turning things around And kids love it.

In fact, she already has more than 25 years proving it works through her edible schoolyard program at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Middle School.

“The public school systems are everywhere even in food deserts so if the schools can themselves be the engines of nourishment and bring it into the classroom and cafeteria, then you’re already addressing one facet of the problem,” Singer said. 

Singer’s book, ‘Always Home,’ is a testament to her mothers’ values about food, becoming her own.

Filled with memories, moments, and recipes — Growing up with the restaurant and a mother determined to teach her to live, cook, and eat close to nature.

“As I’ve gotten older I appreciated the rigor of our mom’s vision and the fact that it is so much about the future and preserving the planet and nature and shoring up the future for our children,” Singer said. 

A future they are concerned about but Waters is still fearless about her dream to have people eat better seasonally and closer to home supporting local farms and ranchers directly.

For her, the next food revolution all comes back to regenerative, unprocessed, wholesome eating.

“To think that food could be the answer, that the engagement with what you are eating every day, could get you to fall in love with nature is amazing,” Waters said. 

Alice Waters’s next big project is working on a partnership with UC Davis to build an institute of edible education and regenerative agriculture at its new Sacramento campus.

It will be designed to teach slow food values to the next generation of cooks, educators, and farmers.

During COVID, Chez Panisse has only been open for take-out and that will now continue until sometime in 2022.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Latest News

More News