All photos: Wendy Goodfriend/KQED.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last week or two you likely know that a certain iconic restaurant in Berkeley is celebrating its 40th birthday this weekend.
Iconic owner of iconic eatery has been here, there, and everywhere in the past week or two. SEO-friendly translation: Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has chatted with former Chez chefs on KQED’s Forum, dished on supping solo on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and got dirty with Hollywood heartthrob and Edible Schoolyard supporter Jake Gyllenhaal on the Today Show, where she was interviewed by Jenna Bush Hager — yes, that Jenna Bush — at The Edible Schoolyard at the San Francisco Boys and Girls Club in Hunters Point, one of several affiliates to the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley.
She’s also been the subject of not one but two lengthy retrospectives in the San Francisco Chronicle and graced the pages of many glossies this month, with more major print media to come this weekend when the Chez Panisse 40th birthday celebrations kick off.
On Tuesday, however, Waters took to the streets of San Francisco — in Maiden Lane off Union Square no less — to serve lunch, sell T-shirts, and sign books.
On the menu: School lunch, of course, or Waters’ vision of what school lunch should be. The boxed lunches were a fundraiser for the newly named nonprofit Edible Schoolyard Project, a national organization designed to integrate garden and kitchen education into grade-school curriculum. Suggested donation: $5 a pop for a box and 400 lunches sold out within an hour or so. In the mix: Smoked pulled chicken baguette (featuring Soul Food Farm chicken, Dirty Girl Farm shallot and Early Girl tomato, and Little City Gardens herbs and baby, frilly mustard greens) with harissa and aioli. The sandwich was accompanied by La Tercera cucumber pickles and radish, along with Knoll Farms figs, Lagier Ranches Bronx grapes, and Happy Quail Farms peppers. For veggies: Pounded lemon thyme pistou with iacopi butter bean mash, Dirty Girl tomatoes, pickled vegetables, and aforementioned frilly mustard greens. And to wash all those organic veggies down, a refreshing drink of Full Belly Farm yellow doll watermelon with anise hyssop and lime juice.
Got all that? There will be a quiz after lunch. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Chez chefs were all too busy prepping for the weekend galas to whip up lunch today, which was outsourced to Nicole Lobue’s Lobue Events, a high-end catering company, in close consultation with Waters, of course.
Waters also teamed up with another local-gone-global icon, Levi’s, to launch a limited-edition t-shirt collection (100 % organic cotton, natch) designed by Alice Waters (who ‘fessed up to help from chef Sylvan Brackett on her tee) and four well-known creative types: musician David Byrne, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, author Dave Eggers and illustrator Maira Kalman. Alas, none of the luminaries were on hand this afternoon to model the $30 shirts, proceeds from the sale also support the Edible Schoolyard Project. Beginning today, the shirts are available in select Levi’s stores and online at levi.com. At lunch some 40 or so Ts were snapped up, Kalman’s pie print proving as popular as Waters’ apple images.
Waters addressed the crowd and the media asking: “What could be more universal than blue jeans and edible education?” To which there were no snappy rejoinders, since this is Waters’ moment in the sun. Levi’s honcho Robert Hanson told a story about his then-very-pregnant girlfriend insisting the couple keep a date at Chez Panisse, some years ago. That night, she gave birth to a baby girl, who’s been an organic vegetarian eater ever since. Cue awww now.
It was all very lovely: Wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested produce, including ground cherries, squash, and aromatic herbs from the ESY garden, along with cute little booths. The communal tables sported linen table cloths and posies of fresh flowers. Waters sang the praises of freshly picked garlic the way she has famously waxed about a perfect peach and stressed the importance of educating all the nation’s children about good food and the pleasures of the table.
The crowd was a mixed bag of die-hard Chez Panisse fans, supporters of Waters’ school lunch and slow food agenda, self-described foodies — and nearby workers who stumbled onto a good thing. Some in line said that the boxed lunch was the closest they’d ever get to Chez Panisse food, since the high-end restaurant is out of reach for many. Some had never heard of the Edible Schoolyard, offering proof that Waters’ mission is far from over.
The local food legend, who signed copies of her new book 40 Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering, shook hands with lunch-goers waiting in line to eat and promised the mellow crowd of 500 or so that anyone who missed out on a meal was invited to come eat at Chez Panisse. No word on who would foot the bill.
When asked if her offer was good, press rep David Prior, who was fairly confident that everyone who wanted a box lunch was accommodated, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s nothing Alice likes less than running out of food. She’s all about feeding people.”
This post originally appeared on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.
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