A Visit to the Birthplace of California Cuisine

Whether you live in California or not, you probably have heard the term “California Cuisine.” What exactly does California Cuisine refer to in popular food culture?

In the book Culture and Customs of the United States: Culture (Shearer, Benjamin F., Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, Pages 212-213), culture expert Benjamin F. Shearer summarized the features of California Cuisine with two phrases: “locally grown fresh ingredients” and “a fusion of tastes from all over the world.” Indeed, in popular food literature and review, California Cuisine is always associated with freshly prepared local ingredients and internationally influenced fusion dishes

chez_frontThe birth of California Cuisine is generally traced back to Alice Waters in the early 1970s and her restaurant Chez Panisse. Waters introduced the idea of using natural, locally grown fresh ingredients to produce her dishes” (Shearer, Benjamin F., Culture and Customs of the United States: Culture, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, page 212). Located just outside the campus of University of California, Berkeley and a favorite among foodies in Northern California since 1971, Chaz Panisse is famous for its freshly produced local ingredients and its fusion style dishes.

Today, I had a chance to visit this famed birthplace of California Cuisine—an awesome experience.

Chaz Panisse has two levels: the first floor is the formal dining Restaurant and the second floor is a more casual Café. Sitting down in the Café, I was immediately captured by these words on the menu: “The food we serve comes from farms, orchards, ranches, and fisheries guided by principles of sustainability.” As a matter of fact, Chaz Panisse changes its menu every day so that it can use the freshest, sustainably-sourced ingredients for its dishes.

chez_menu

Indeed, the freshness of the ingredients is unequivocally manifested in the look, smell, taste, and texture of the dishes. Meanwhile, the flavor and flair of its fusion style are equally impressive. Below are a few items on today’s menu that I snapped.

 

Halibut with spinach, carrots, sweet peas, and ginger-citrus beurre blanc. This exhilarating dish embodies the heart and soul of California Cuisine: freshness and fusion.

 Halibut with spinach, carrots, sweet peas, and ginger-citrus beurre blanc                                       This exhilarating dish embodies the heart and soul of California Cuisine: freshness and fusion.

Dal Porto Ranch lamb tagine with roasted butternut squash, chard, couscous, and harissa The delightfully fresh aroma tells it all. Can you tell the wonderful fusion style?

Dal Porto Ranch lamb tagine with roasted butternut squash, chard, couscous, and harissa
The delightfully fresh aroma tells it all. Can you tell the wonderful fusion style?

Carrot soup with yogurt, coriander, and mint. You can literally smell the garden!

   Carrot soup with yogurt, coriander, and mint
              You can literally smell the garden!

Pizza with artichokes, wild nettles, and ricotta salata The rich, vegetal flavor highlights the locally produced toppings.

Pizza with artichokes, wild nettles, and ricotta salata
The rich, vegetal flavor highlights the locally produced ingredients.

Rhubarb galette with vanilla ice cream The seasonal rhubarb looks fresh out of the green house—a fantastic blend with vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb galette with vanilla ice cream
The seasonal rhubarb looks fresh out of the greenhouse—a fantastic blend with vanilla ice cream.

There is a famous story about Chez Panisse’s ingredients: a snobby French chef once looked at a Chez Panisse plate and said, “That’s not cooking. That’s shopping.” Indeed, what really stands Chez Panisse out is its ingredients—fresh, local, and original ingredients. It is this idea of natural, original ingredients that ensures Chez Panisse’s success for more than 45 years and solidifies its role as an epitome of California Cuisine. As stated on its website, the philosophy of Chez Panisse is to invite “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.”

I had some really good food today!

18 thoughts on “A Visit to the Birthplace of California Cuisine

  1. Thanks for the post and the history. I feel ashamed that being in La for 17 years I did not know Cali had it’s own cuisine. I just assumed it was a hotpot of all cuisines with a strong mexican influence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad the info is helpful 🙂 Other than influence from the south, California Cuisine is greatly influenced by food cultures from the far east. You see fusions from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai foods, especially in large metropolitan areas. Enjoy your great variety of cuisines in LA!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great write up. Thank you. I had no idea about Chez Panisse, but funnily enough, someone gave me their cookery book years ago. I’m going to go home and take another look at it after reading your great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a couple of recipe books by Alice Waters, the founder of Chez Panisse. She is widely regarded as a leading exemplar of California Cuisine. Hope you enjoy the book!

      Like

  3. I lived in Berkeley 1971 ~1974, but have never heard of Chez Panisse. We are not too far, we shall plan to make a visit. The restaurants is quite pricey! Did you really pay $125 per person? Very interesting post! 🙂

    Like

    • If you go to the Cafe on the second floor, it is much more economic than the formal dining on the first floor. We went to the Cafe, ordered items from the menu, and spent much much less than what you mentioned. It is not more expensive than a regular restaurant in the Bay Area. Most people went to the Cafe rather than to the more pricey formal dinning. We were told that the food at the Cafe is as fresh and tasty as the food at the first floor formal dinning room.

      Like

  4. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed being able to virtually be part of your wonderful dining experience at Chez Panisse. It has such a fantastic history and looks incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: A Refreshing Experience—The Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley | Youth Food – Meals Under Pressure Cooker

Leave a Comment. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s