It's been three weeks since the Chez Panisse fire that destroyed the restaurant's porch, and the team has begun the process of rebuilding for a targeted early June opening. Our friends over at Eater National sat down with Alice Waters today to talk about the fire aftermath and what she has planned for the restaurant next. Below, a few choice highlights:
On getting the call: "I was very sound asleep. It took me some time to register what was going on and that I needed to get immediately out of bed. But then all of a sudden I realized, 'Oh my God, just get in the car and go.'"
Why this fire isn't as bad as the one in 1982: "It has really destroyed the workings, the electrical, and the plumbing of the restaurant, which is why it's going to take us quite a time to open up. But it didn't do the kind of damage that the other fire did, [in] which every wall, every surface, everything in the whole downstairs dining room was pretty much burnt to the ground. You could see through the floors."
On the neighborhood response: "People have come by and they just offer to kind of do anything. They just want to bring a broom and sweep. It just reminds me of why I have that restaurant. It's to be connected with community and to have people feel like it's their own...I think a lot of people over the years have those kinds of real attachments to [Chez Panisse]. I discovered that at the first fire. Before that time, I was pretty self-absorbed. I was paying attention to the customers, but my first desire was to cook what we wanted to cook and do it the way we wanted to do it and just hope the folks out there wanted to eat it. And fortunately they did. But after the fire, I just realized we have to really pay attention to what they would like to have, too."
On why fires happen: "I've always felt like we have maintained the restaurant in the best of all possible ways. I feel like it's like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. As soon as you get to one side, you start again. It is a work in progress in that way. This house was never meant to be a restaurant. It's a very old, nearly 100-year-old house."
On the fire sprinklers she once despised: "I won't complain about the way it looks anymore. I'll just do it."