—How much can one little restaurant matter? If the restaurant in question is the fabled Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., the answer is “quite a lot.” Founded by then-27-year-old Alice Waters in 1971, Chez Panisse changed the way Americans eat. Along with the growth of farmers markets and the influence of food personalities such as James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, and Julia Child, the example of Chez Panisse and its seminal cookbook helped to transform American gastronomy, shifting the search for flavor from the provinces of France to the farms of the United States.
For anyone curious about the roots of Chez Panisse, Waters’s memoir, Coming to My Senses, is a useful and often entertaining source of insight. But although the book examines many of the green shoots that grew into the garden of Chez Panisse (and all that follows), “Coming to My Senses” should come with a warning label: This volume will bring a reader up to the founding of the restaurant and no further, with only fleeting glimpses into the restaurant’s history. It’s possible that a future Waters memoir will cover the years when Chez Panisse was fully established, flourished, and changed the American dining scene – and that is perhaps the memoir most readers would prefer to read.
As it is, “Coming to My Senses” is a mixed salad. But if some of its elements are less appealing, others are very tasty. The insight Waters offers into her New Jersey upbringing seeds the story admirably and engagingly. And while recounting her own childhood and travels, Waters plants many seeds for what is to come – here, a great-aunt who helped inspire the candle-lit shabby chic style that would in part define Chez Panisse, there an encounter in Nice, France, with the mesclun salad mix that would help define the menu.
Read more at Christian Science Monitor.