Stirring Up History: The Bancroft’s Chez Panisse Archives give a soupçon of the restaurant’s early days

“The inch-high Help Wanted ad was placed in a Bay Area newspaper sometime in the early 1970s by a ‘small, successful, innovative Restaurant’ in Berkeley seeking an ‘inspired energetic CHEF to plan and cook single-entree 5-course dinners weekly, Fernand Point and Elizabeth David style.’

That scrap of newsprint, taped casually to the center of a vintage sheet of Chez Panisse notepaper, sits in a folder labeled ‘Staff: miscellaneous’ within the Chez Panisse manuscript archives at the Bancroft Library. Possibly it’s the very one that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1973. It may indeed be the one that, as foodie legend has it, brought only a handful of applicants to the kitchen at 1517 Shattuck Ave. But none were satisfactory to the overworked but committed young Alice Waters ‘67 and her comrades in cuisine, who’d converted the old house to a restaurant just two years earlier. Only then did an unknown Jeremiah Tower stride in, ‘fix the soup’ by adding salt and a bit of cream and white wine, and instantly land the job. It’s been said that Tower’s glittering career, the enduring reputation of Chez Panisse, indeed California cuisine itself—whatever that may prove to be when all is said and done—were all born at that historic moment.

That story, though long since debunked by all participants (apart from Tower himself), persists as a creation myth—a challenge to either confirm or rebut on the strength of primary documents from the Bancroft’s ‘Chez Panisse, records, 1966–2011.’ Donated to the library a decade ago, and continuing to grow with periodic infusions of paper from the still-thriving restaurant, the archive’s patchiness is perhaps its most striking characteristic.” – Jonathan King, CAL Alumni Association

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