Cal Peternell has been busy since he left his post at Chez Panisse in 2017. After 22 years there, the chef and James Beard Award-nominated cookbook author has been devoting time to his podcast, Cooking by Ear, and at San Quentin, teaching inmates culinary skills. Now though, he’s ready to get back in the kitchen, with plans to open a restaurant called the Lede in late summer.
The restaurant will occupy the same space as StudioToBe, a coworking operation and production space with a focus on storytelling. Founded by a trio of veteran journalists — Joaquin Alvarado, Ken Ikeda, and Kristen Belden — it’s dedicated to information sharing and content development.
Together, the Lede and StudioToBe occupy what was formerly Pacific Coast Brewing, a 29-year-old craft brewery that closed in 2017 after lease negotiations went sour. Peternell, whose podcast is recorded at StudioToBe, has found a home in and out of the small kitchen there.
“It felt like a combination of things I really love, cooking and eating and gathering around the table and storytelling and journalism, and there’s a certain amount of activism and social justice,” says Peternell. “It seemed like the kind of project that was the only kind of project that would draw me back in.”
Given the restaurant’s unique relationship to StudioToBe, it will be counter service — dining tables will be the same tables used the by space’s members during the day. Peternell says he sees it seamlessly transitioning from one use to another.
The menu will be some iteration of Cal-Italian (“Cal for California, and also for me”), and will keep cadence with the style of food Peternell cooked at Chez Panisse, inspired by French, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisines, and using the abundance of local produce.
There’ll be bar snacks to go with cocktails, beer, and wine from partner Kit Taylor (Prizefighter), plus “a few fried things,” a cheese plate, and high-quality tinned fish, plus larger plates like salads, pastas, and a duck leg whose accompaniments will change with the seasons. “Dishes that people can put together to make into a lunch or dinner or share with groups,” says Peternell.
Its location across from Swan Market also puts the Lede in the path of a variety of people, from the journalists that work in StudioToBe to to nearby office workers looking for a quick lunch to families with kids. Peternell hopes to provide something for everyone, with a “friendly price” to match.
“I knew I didn’t want to do a fine dining thing anymore,” Peternell told Eater, “[I] wanted to be more accessible, and have a place that’s like the kind of places that I most like to go, like Cosecha or Vik’s Chaat or a taco truck. Places that are welcoming and convivial without any level of intimidation or exclusion.”
The Lede’s name references a common journalism term for the most important aspects of a story. “I tell people that [a lede] is the hook that draws you in. And for us, the main point of the story is telling stories and that’s what we’re all about there, the power that storytelling has, politically, culturally in so many ways,” says Peternell. “I’ve always loved the way that cooking and eating can sort of provoke and evoke stories and conversations and collaboration.
“That’s what the restaurant is going to be about: Rather than drawing everyones attention to me, the chef or whatever is happening in the kitchen, I want the attention to stay at the table and have the food and drink be supportive of that.”
As for the space, it’s gotten a slight facelift with some new paint, plus the removal of carpeting, TVs, and neon beer signs. A sunny patio features stools and furniture that Peternell built or snagged from Urban Ore. When it opens, the Lede will keep hours on weekdays and weekends for lunch and dinner (likely closed Sunday or Monday). Stay tuned for more details as the summer progresses.