A few weeks ago I was reading the book commemorating the 40th anniversary of Chez Panisse. It’s a beautiful compendium of photographs and memories from the Chez Panisse family, illustrating the force of that restaurant and Alice Waters and the tremendous effect they both have had on what we eat and how we do so. I think I’ve loved alice since she first entered my frame. But now I think I’ve fallen absolutely in love with her. As well as with her fantastical mercurial impossible visions that again and again have become her and our reality.
And I especially love the delightfully sour entry by her former general manager describing his experience at the 30th anniversary celebration at Berkeley back in 2001. A small meal for 150 became a feast for 600 chefs and patrons and filmmakers and artists – a soft leisurely afternoon beneath the Berkeley campanile that would evoke the spirit of the Pagnol films that long ago had inspired Waters. In the planning phase, Gilbert Pilgram, the former general manager of the restaurant (and eventual owner of Zuni) kept asking how they would manage the clean up and Alice repeated with ever more irritation that “it was taken care of.” After the big fête, everyone else had retired to the after party and Pilgram was left largely alone with a handful of Tibetans and sullen teenagers to clean up the mess. Very little had been taken care of. And so they toiled away exhausted and alone until the sun rose the next morning.
We may not be able to have a decent life without Alice. But we can’t have life at all without Gilbert Pilgram.