The first time I went to Chez Panisse (to be honest, it was the Cafe at Chez Panisse, as I was a budding entrepreneur at the time and the cafe at lunch time was all I could afford), I brought a bouquet of roses for the chef Alice Waters. I didn’t know if she would be there, and I was rather embarrassed at my juvenile display of adoration. After all, I was all of twenty-six by then, and ought to have been well beyond the era of proffering gifts to authority figures, much like a schoolchild might offer up an apple to a first grade teacher …
And so I savored every bite of that wonderful three-hour meal, the whole time concealing the bouquet beneath the banquet. I can still recall the freshness of the vegetables, the doughy rightness of the pasta, and the impossible richness of the caramel pot de creme that followed. The wine selections—all Kermit Lynch imports—were divine and soil-driven, and the entire experience was not unlike being transported to some divine netherland where scents, flavors, and warm feelings wrapped around me like a delicious cocoon.
It was only as my friend and I were on our way out that I found the courage to shove the somewhat wilted stems into the arms of an employee on the landing. “I brought these for Ms. Waters,” I apologized, not even remotely close to working up the chutzpah to ask if I might actually hand them to the grand dame herself. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll be delighted’“ was the surprising response, and—pleased to the point of nearly popping out of my three-button blazer—I glided out the door and back into the bright Berkeley afternoon.
I had paid my respects to the Food Goddess and experienced dining nirvana in the process. It was a very good day.
Chez Panisse located in Berkeley, California.
Photo courtesy of Courtney Cochran