Feasts Mark the 40th Anniversary of Chez Panisse

America's most influential restaurant celebrates in style
Angelo and the boar.
Colman Andrews

Angelo and the boar.

When Chez Panisse — arguably America's single most influential restaurant — turned 30, in 2001, more than 600 guests showed for a seven-hour afternoon-into-evening fête centered around a rustic-style feast at long communal tables on the lawn beneath the famous belltower on the University of California at Berkeley campus, a few blocks from the restaurant. There were cured meats supplied by Dario Cecchini, the Dante-spouting celebrity butcher from Tuscany, big platters of summer vegetables drizzled with olive oil, Provençal-style fish soup, spit-roasted lamb with chanterelles, spicy mint-flavored lamb sausages, assorted cheeses, and mulberry ice cream cones.

Christopher Lee, then chef at Chez Panisse, supervised the outdoor kitchen team, which included such sous-chefs as Jonathan Waxman, Nancy Silverton, Paul Bertolli, and Judy Rodgers. The wines included Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé and Domaine Les Pallières Gigondas, and the all-star turnout included Peter Sellars, Michael Tilson Thomas, Francis Ford Coppola, Barbara Boxer, Martha Stewart, Robert Mondavi, Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams, R. W. Apple Jr., Orville Schell, Boz Scaggs, and culinary personalities Edna Lewis, Cecilia Chiang, Marion Cunningham, Thomas Keller, Ruth Reichl, Christopher Hirsheimer, Paula Wolfert, Bruce Cost, Faith Willinger, Corby Kummer, Jeffrey Steingarten, Michael Bauer, and many more.

The food world — the world, period — has changed since then; 9/11 came three weeks later, the economy has gone sour, and Mondavi, Apple, and Lewis, among other attendees, are now supping with the angels. Chez Panisse still knows how to celebrate, however.

In 1995, Alice Waters, Chez Panisse materfamilias, established the first "Edible Schoolyard" at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. The following year, in observance of the restaurant's 25th anniversary, she set up the non-profit Chez Panisse Foundation to fund the project. The foundation has just morphed into the Edible Schoolyard Project, with an announced goal of bringing school produce gardens and culinary education to every middle school in America. This year, to benefit the new enterprise, in place of a single grand bash, Waters and her colleagues set up 11 benefit dinners around the Bay Area, all but one of them on Saturday night the 27th, priced at $500 to $2,000 per person.

On Thursday the 25th, Waters opened her own house to a select group for a shrimp boil orchestrated by Southern chef and longtime Edna Lewis collaborator Scott Peacock. On Saturday, among other events, the indefatigable nonagenarian Cecilia Chiang, who ran San Francisco's lamented Mandarin restaurant and has been called "the Julia Child of Chinese food," cooked dinner at her home with the help of Bill He from South Legend Sichuan Restaurant in Milpitas, near San Jose, with Ruth Reichl and Patty Unterman in attendance. (Wayne Wang, director of such movies as Maid in Manhattan and Smoke, filmed the proceedings.)

Orville Schell, a noted Sinologist and the former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, hosted a Roman-style dinner prepared by alumni of Chez Panisse and the Rome Sustainable Food Project. Roman Jewish food was the focus of a meal at a Berkeley residence, prepared by Christopher Lee with help from Nancy Silverton and cookbook authors Joan Nathan and Jessica Theroux (and a guest appearance by Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg — this was Berkeley, after all). Traci Des Jardins cooked a Provençal-inspired menu (special guest: Raj Patel, author of the best-selling Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System), Canal House cooker Christopher Hirsheimer did Italian with Niloufer King and Peggy Knickerbocker, Chez Panisse alumnus Sylvan Mishima Brackett and Tokyo chef Yuri Nomura put on a Japanese fish dinner, reluctant carnivore Michael Pollan and his wife hosted a backyard pig roast…


Angelo Garro breaking down his Sicilian-style roasted boar.

I went to a different kind of pig party, featuring a wild boar stuffed with fennel branches and roasted Sicilian-style over hardwood on a funky-looking spit by Sicilian-born ironsmith Angelo Garro at his Renaissance Forge off San Francisco's Folsom Street. Garro is a one-of-a-kind character, slightly rounded, bespectacled, somehow quietly intense and amiably distracted at the same time. When he's not creating ironwork (everything from candlesticks to staircase balusters to whimsical sculptures), he hunts and fishes and not only cooks but cures or otherwise preserves the results; he makes his own olives, his own olive oil, his own wine; he forages for herbs and wild fruit. Garro's the kind of guy you'd want with you if you were ever marooned on a desert island; give him a few weeks to work out the details, and he'd be serving you Sicilian feasts. He shot the boar.


A non-food table at Angelo Garro's Renaissance Forge workshop.


Garro opened his workshop, officially called Angelo Garro's Renaissance Forge — a real workspace, partly roofless, with concrete floors and tools and whatnots covering every inch of wall and table surface — to a group that included cohosts Boz Scaggs and his wife, Dominique (their club Slim's is one block over), Kitchen Sister Davia Nelson, science writer Timothy Ferris, Bay Area food activist Anya Fernald, Jim Reichardt of Liberty Ducks (which supplies quackers to top restaurants all over America), and Sicilian cooking teacher and winery rep Fabrizia Lanza of Regaleali. (Todd Selby, of theselby.com, stopped by to take some pictures; he was recording all the dinners for Chez Panisse.)