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.
“The 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.
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.
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!