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Alice Waters and Chez Panisse Paperback – February 26, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

You can't tell the story of Chez Panisse, Berkeley's famed restaurant, without relating that of its diminutive founder, proprietor, and sometime chef, Alice Waters. This is what Thomas McNamee does most handily in his Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, a chronicle that begins with the seat-of-the-pants opening night of the "counterculture" venture in 1971, and ends 35 years later with Waters's restaurant an American institution--one credited with birthing California Cuisine, a style devoted to simplicity, freshness and seasonality. The book also limns, with tasty gossip, the ever-evolving Chez Panisse family, including the cook-artisans uniquely responsible for dish creation; follows the attempts, mostly failed, to put the restaurant on sound financial footing; shows how dishes and menus get made; and of course pursues Waters as she broadens her commitment to "virtuous agriculture" by establishing ventures like The Edible Schoolyard and The Yale Sustainable Food Project.

The success of Chez Panisse--Gourmet magazine named it the best American restaurant in 2002--has everything to do with Waters, yet she remains an elusive protagonist. Sophisticated yet naive, professional and amateur, hard-driving but emotionally blurry, she invites reader interest but doesn't always satisfy it, as least as presented here. If McNamee cannot quite bring her to life, and if his tale lacks an insider's full conversance with his subject, he still engages readers in the considerable drama of people finding their way--blunderingly, with talented intent--to something new. With menus, narrated recipes, and photographs throughout, the book is vital reading for anyone interested in food, period. --Arthur Boehm --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Talk about dish: McNamee's book is a gossipy history of the famed restaurant and a biography of the individual behind its three-decade rise from humble beginnings to international renown. Alice Waters was a young, single American woman with strong, confident sense and vision but little experience in the restaurant business when she moved to Berkeley in the 1960s. She loved food and cooking, and dreamed of opening a restaurant; her passion and enthusiasm eventually produced a location, a crew and a clientele. The book chronicles the following decades with extensive detail from a behind-the-scenes viewpoint, going from stovetop to bedroom, from opening night right up through the restaurant's recent 35th anniversary. Larger-than-life personalities abound, but the primary focus is Waters, whose success occasionally comes across as attributable to accidents and other people as often as design. The author researched restaurant archives and interviewed dozens of willing subjects with Waters's approval, and the result is a mélange of reverential biography with restaurant and food history. Sidebars scattered throughout the text provide additional anecdotes and insight into Waters's favorite dishes. Serious foodies will devour this memoir. B&w photos. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113089
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Miles Chapin on March 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've just finished this book and I have to say that it had more in it than I had bargained for when I first picked it up. I knew I wanted to read the story about America's most famous, most influential, and arguably most "important" restaurant, but I was delightfully surprised by two other things about it. First thing, I've never read a story laid out quite like this - the narrative voices (it's kind of an oral history of Chez Panisse but that doesn't really do this book justice) overlap, blend, and harmonize with each other, and that of the writer Thomas McNamee, in a seamless fashion which sweeps the reader along in a way I've never before experienced. Second, I had no real understanding of the value and values of the work of Alice Waters & crew, and how important they are in 21st century America. To take this restaurant from its beginnings as a kind of Mickey-and-Judy "Let's put on a Restaurant" venture all the way through the culinary flowering of our nation in the 80's, 90's and 00's, and to be a leader of the pack the entire time, is quite a feat for Alice. And to end up with her labors on behalf of Slow Food, environmental education, and responsible sustainability... well it's a path I wish more people would travel. Bravo and toques off to Alice Waters, all the staff who have worked at Chez Panisse over the years, and mostly to Thomas McNamee and his publisher who bring us this story which is at once a delight to read and a good message for us to hear.
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Format: Hardcover
McNamee's book is an excellent read, no doubt. The story flows, the characters build, the plot thickens. I've been fortunate enough to often eat at Chez Panisse, particularly in its first 5 years, and had seen more than a few of the scenes the author, or one of his correspondents, describes. Alice's determination and pursuit of the best possible ingredient have always been remarkable. She's a Taurus, isn't she!

My only quibble is the rather overly respectful view McNamee takes of her. She's more a flesh and blood person than a saint, and the author might take that into account if he continues to plumb this vein of research.

All in all a fairly well researched and well written tome. Perhaps not as evocative as the chapter on Chez Panisse in David Kamp's, United States of Arugula, but a good book to open to any page & foster a laugh, a sigh or an hurrah!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As interesting as this book is about the founding and growth of Chez Panisse and about Alice Water's fascinating life, it's also about the creation and growth of California cuisine and the importance of the local farmer and sustainable ingredients. It's the antidote to Fast food Nation and provides some hope for healthier eating and the value of the small farmer. A terrific read that's wonderfully written.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse is unique in that it's definitely an extraordinary book about food and its preparation as well as a story about a movement that affected an entire industry. Adding to all that is the portrayal of Alice Waters as an individual with unusual focus and dedication to her ideals. The description of the lengths Chez Panisse extended themselves to prepare the finest meals using only the very best, freshest, local and organic ingredients makes you fully understand why the restaurant is considered among the very best in the USA. as well as internationally. If you love food and a good story, curl up with this book, a glass of wine, maybe some tapenade over crusty French bread and enjoy!
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Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. I enjoyed the way it was written, and especially the little tidbits of cooking info of some classic Chez Panisse recipes. It was well-researched and well-written and I enjoyed every minute of it.
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Format: Hardcover
Any foodie worth her sun-dried sea salt knows the name Alice Waters. Waters was the person who spearheaded the move to fresh, local produce that's grown sustainability and locally, and Chez Panisse is probably the most famous restaurant that most of us have never visited.

So I was particularly interested in Waters' story. I'm glad I read it, as I feel like I now know things that I ought to know... but I can't say that this is a Wow book. If you have the opportunity to read the book, do; but I don't think you have to drop everything to put it on the top of your Must Read pile.

Yes, Alice Waters created a revolution in the way that Americans, or at least food-conscious Americans, think about food. But she didn't set out to do so as though she was on a lifelong mission... she just wanted to open the sort of one-star Michelin restaurant that she had encountered across France. Through a set of remarkable happenstance (which makes me think simultaneously -- if oddly -- of both Forrest Gump and Connie Willis' Bellwether), Waters was always in the right place at the right time. The right person always showed up in her life, at the time needed. And -- here's a lesson far beyond foodiehood -- she repeatedly took disaster and turned it into opportunity.

For example, after she brought Italian wood fired pizza to the States (oh geez, she started *that* trend, too?), an oven started a huge fire. The restaurant had to be renovated in a hurry, so instead of recreating the small door between kitchen and dining room, she made a big open area...
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