[Photo: Amanda Marsalis]
It's been one month since Alice Waters' legendary restaurant Chez Panisse reopened its doors in Berkeley, California, after a fire forced its shutter back in March. Waters marked the occasion with a benefit for her charity, the Edible Schoolyard, that she says "was just like a family reunion." And ever since then, it's been a busy summer for the 42-year-old restaurant, full of bookings, Bastille Day celebrations, and continued improvements to complete the three-month renovation process that began pretty much straight after the fire hit. Those continued improvements include rebuilding the handicapped ramp, which Waters says they didn't get perfectly right the first time. Chez Panisse will close July 29-30 to accomplish this task.
As Waters pointed out in an interview shortly after the fire, the opportunity to rebuild things in a better way was a silver lining to such a tragedy. The Chez Panisse team — including some of its original builders and artisans — spent three months fixing up the patchwork of dining spaces that had been added throughout the years as Chez Panisse grew in its home on Shattuck Avenue. Not only did they rewire the electrical systems and take safety precautions to prevent any more fires in the future, but Chez Panisse also got a new pagoda-like facade, reconfigured dining rooms, a new menu in the upstairs café, and more.
Having built up immeasurable neighborly goodwill throughout the years in Berkeley, Waters also got plenty of help in her renovation plan. The original architect Kip Mesirow came back to design the new facade, while local artists and artisans such as Sherry Olsen, Willem Racké, Paul Discoe, and Khalil Mujededy all worked on various aspects of the new Chez Panisse. Most touchingly, Waters bought a little metal clip stand for posting announcements at the bar with the $37 that two young girls brought her from their Meyer lemonade stand. "It was pretty beautiful," Waters says of the gesture. Here now, a look at the various Chez Panisse renovations, as explained by Waters herself: