Jeremiah Tower, whom Alice hired back in 1972, was a surprise guest.
Though they had a somewhat apocryphal falling out many years back, Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower were reunited this past Friday after he responded to Alice’s call and hopped a plane from his home in Mexico to help celebrate Chez Panisse’s 40th birthday. The pair may have squabbled in the past over who deserves credit for creating the restaurant, but they set all that aside and shared a table there Friday night, at a dinner with a small group of friends cooked by current chef Jean-Pierre Moullé. The grand opening ceremonies of the weekend took place earlier that evening at the Berkeley Art Museum, where a pen of adorable lambs at the museum entrance, open sacks of ripe cherry tomatoes, and mountains of fresh breakfast radishes paid tribute to the restaurant’s long-standing relationships with California’s organic farmers.
Governor Jerry Brown said a few words (“I believe in free speech,” he said, pointing to the Free Speech/Free Lunch banners hanging in the museum for the event. “But this free lunch business is going to be harder to pull off.”) and a representative from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery presented Alice with her portrait, a beatific photograph by artist Dave Woody taken in front of a mulberry tree in Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard — it was the first time the institution had ever done a portrait unveiling outside Washington, and Alice blushed and choked up a little, and said, “I thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” as if she didn’t expect anyone to show up to the party.
Also, there was a super sixties parade of Berkeley students and former employees of the restaurant, wearing beekeeping gear, gardening apparel, and various kooky headdresses of flora and fauna. And though there were no Jake Gyllenhaal sightings that evening, we hear he was in town and escorting Alice through various parts of the event-filled weekend.
On Saturday, the museum opened to the public with more interactive installations inspired by Chez Panisse from the group OPENrestaurant, including edible gardens and a “living kitchen.” And that evening, a spontaneous street party broke out in front of the restaurant, to which the police showed up — just like in the sixties! Foodies with means attended one of a bunch of benefit dinners for the Edible Schoolyard, including a $1,500-a-head pig roast in Michael Pollan’s backyard. (Chef Samin Nosrat posted some teaser photos of that event here.) We, sadly, did not have the means.
But please enjoy our slideshow from Friday…
Earlier: What You Missed at the Edible Schoolyard Boxed-Lunch Fête in Union Square
Alice Waters, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jenna Bush Walk Into a Garden …
Chez Panisse Wallpapers the Restaurant With Vintage Menus
The surprise guest of the evening was Jeremiah Tower, one of the founding (self-taught) chefs at Chez Panisse who believes — as he discussed in his 2003 memoir California Dish — that he deserves credit not only for creating what we know as Chez Panisse, but for creating California Cuisine as well. Since closing his legendary San Francisco restaurant Stars in 1999, Tower declared that he was “done with California” and retired to Merida, Mexico. More recently he told the Wall Street Journal
that he was done with Mexico, mostly because they have bad produce, and was relocating to Puglia, the boot-heel of Italy.
Banners in the main atrium of the Berkeley Art Museum paid tribute to both the restaurant’s original connection to the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley, and “free lunch” from Alice’s Edible Schoolyard programs. In his opening remarks, Governor Jerry Brown said, “I believe in free speech. But this free lunch business is going to be a little harder to pull off.”
Governor Brown, who still keeps a residence in nearby Oakland, greeted guests alongside Ms. Waters.
One major highlight of the night were these mulberry-brandy cocktails, which gave a nod to the mulberry tree featured in Alice’s portrait.
They concocted a refreshing, boozy mixture using brandies from St. George Spirits in Alameda, which she infused with various fruits and herbs from Chez Panisse’s now famous purveyors, like Frog Hollow Farm. The shots had to be decanted, as you see, directly into people’s mouths like they were taking communion.
Sweet cherry tomatoes were for the taking in these big sacks around the space.
At the entrance to the party, there was a pen of adorable little lambs. Despite the implications of the grill-smoke bellowing from the back of the museum, these were not for eating.
Also, among the “gardens” planted near the museum entrance, was this coop of chickens.
/Gilt Taste Editor Ruth Reichl, a resident of Berkeley when Chez Panisse came into being in the early 1970s, said, “There are people here I haven’t seen in 40 years.” She said she was feeling down about herself, in comparison to Alice and all she’d accomplished. Also: “Doesn’t Jeremiah look fantastic?”
One odd/fun bit of food theater, from the OPENrestaurant kids: Guests were greeted with cups of corn soup in unfired clay cups, which we were told not to squeeze too hard. We were then meant to dispose of the cups by tossing and breaking them in this bin.
The hors d’oeuvre highlight: radishes, salt, and parsley on fresh sheep’s milk ricotta and still-warm grilled bread.
Then came the portrait unveiling. At left, the artist, Dave Woody.
This will move to the Smithsonian National Portait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Ratatouille was served in Little-gem lettuce cups.
And things turned really sixties when a group of kids from U.C. Berkeley, along with former employees of the restaurant, marched in a processional through the event wearing togas, headdresses, gardening gear, and such.
We’re not sure what it was all supposed to mean, but it sure felt festive!