Chef Cal Peternell will leave Chez Panisse after 22 years in the kitchen on July 5. It’s the end of an era of over two decades in one of the Bay Area’s most iconic restaurants, serving California-infused tasting menus in its homey Berkeley dining room.
Peternell told Inside Scoop that he plans to continue his culinary journey, but wanted to leave Chez Panisse while he was still loving it. During his time there, the chef also became a notable cookbook author, with titles like Twelve Recipes, and A Recipe for Cooking. Originally a student of painting, Peternell began his culinary career at SF’s Bix, with stints in Boston at at Bizou before finally landing at Waters’ iconic restaurant in 1995, eventually rising to helm the kitchen in 2000.
On the other side of the stove, Peternell is in good company. Chez Panisse, started by food world icon Alice Waters in 1971, has been a steady presence, and source of Bay Area talent for years. Many acolytes and alumni of Waters’ restaurant have gone on to gain success in their own endeavors, including Russell Moore (Camino, The Kebabery), Charlie Hallowell (Pizzaiolo, Penrose), Rayneil De Guzman (Ramen Shop), Alison Barakat (Bakesale Betty), Jonathan Waxman (Waxman’s), and the notorious Jeremiah Tower (Stars), among many more.
Post-Chez Panisse, Peternell is leaving his options open, though he has another cookbook coming out this fall, and a podcast called “Cooking by Ear.” In a big departure, Peternell says he’s entertaining the idea of starting a cooking school (though it’s all just a vague idea right now), to help students learn to live and work in the Bay Area’s current economy; the Bay Area is tough even for the most accomplished culinary professionals and though it’s hard to believe, Peternell says that Chez Panisse is also competing with wealthy people hiring private chefs, and start-ups luring chefs in with cushy corporate gigs.
Keep an eye out for more intel on the chef’s new direction. And in the meantime, head to Chez Panisse for a series of menus in the coming weeks, inspired by former chefs at the restaurant, including Gilbert Pilgrim (Zuni Cafe), Peggy Smith (Cowgirl Creamery), Jerome Waag, Christopher Lee, and David Tanis.