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Alice Waters Takes Chez Panisse to New Heights

Alice Waters

Alice Waters stands in the doorway of the sunny new porch at Chez Panisse, which, after last spring’s fire, has been entirely reconstructed and revamped into what feels like a treehouse. Photograph by Amanda Marsalis

At almost 70, Alice Waters would—you might think—take a moment to reflect on her legacy and be content with her significant place in history.

After all, it’s been 42 years since she opened Chez Panisse, the restaurant that began as a wild counterculture experiment and, ironically, matured into the most influential restaurant in the country.

When fire broke out there in March, destroying the facade and damaging much of the dining room, many wondered if this would be the moment when Waters stepped back, letting others continue her pioneering work. But those of us who know her knew that was never going to happen. Ever galvanized by adversity and inspired by a challenge, she was energized by the fire at Chez Panisse—not just in regard to rebuilding the restaurant but also in her steadfast vision for the way America feeds itself.

Regulars to Chez Panisse will note the changes in the restaurant, both significant and subtle. While the menu and style of food have always continued to evolve over the years, the fire gave Waters the opportunity to finally take the place from ramshackle restaurant squeezed into a house to her desired “Zen Craftsman-style treehouse.” Both upstairs and downstairs have been renewed with structural changes and a general burnishing of the warm redwood and copper-hued rooms.

Later this month will see the release of Waters’ new tome, The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden. It is a follow-up to her bestselling classic, a collection of recipes and gardening how-to’s with illustrations of every conceivable fruit and vegetable suitable for growing in a backyard, on a balcony, or in a schoolyard. As the title suggests, Waters is continuing to bring nature closer to the kitchen—a hallmark of her style and, ultimately, her influence.

This article was published in 7x7's October issue. Click here to subscribe.