How do you turn a love of French food into a successful restaurant that celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend?
Alice Waters has the answer. After studying in Paris in the sixties she took home with her a love of French food, a love that she eventually planted and, with more than a little help from her friends, got to flourish as the restaurant Chez Panisse, in Berkeley California.
Who would have thought that a restaurant that started out serving just one three-course menu with no choice, every day, would be here forty years later? A three-course menu with a heavy French accent though, that changes every day, and uses the very best seasonal ingredients sourced and foraged locally as much as possible. Principles that Alice has nurtured, being recognized as the mother of Californian Cuisine and going on to establish the Edible Schoolyard project at a local school which multiplied elsewhere in the country, to set up the Chez Panisse Foundation, and become involved in the Slow Food Movement. Not to mention the collection of cookbooks she’s written.
I got engrossed in the story of Chez Panisse and Alice Waters (by Thomas McNamee) this summer doing my daily shuffle back and forth to work, and was astonished to realize that the restaurant is almost as old as me (I’ve got about six months on it at the time of writing). As the pages turned and the years advanced the story became less about the restaurant, and its changing face that somehow stayed the same, and more about Alice’s philosophy as it developed. It’s one we should just be adhering to, the world would be so much simpler.
The anniversary is being celebrated this weekend with numerous events, centered around the restaurant and with private dinners cooked in “Famille Panisse” homes, with all proceeds going to the Chez Panisse Foundation. Which should harvest a great amount seeing the prices.
Obviously I can’t go to any of the numerous celebrations this weekend, but I love to cook food with flavour for people, and a three-course menu à la Chez Panisse seemed a fitting tribute. It’s not quite the same menu as that served 40 years ago – paté was served to start, and the tart for dessert was plum and not almond, but the main course was duck with olives (canard aux olives), which will be served next.
Instead of the paté to start I foraged on the internet and was immediately inspired by this shaved artichoke, fennel and parmesan salad, a tumble of paperthin sliced vegetables dressed with truffle oil and lemon juice published in Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters.
Shaved Fennel, Artichoke and Parmesan Salad
From Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (Harper Collins, 1996), via Epicurious
– 2 lemons
– 2 artichokes
– 2 fennel bulbs
– 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 to 2 tbspns white truffle oil
– Salt and pepper
– 1 small block of Parmegiano Reggiano parmesan cheese
– A few stalks of flat leaf parsley
Preparing the artichokes for slicing
First prepare a dish of water with lemon juice and a slice of lemon in it. The artichoke is like an apple when you cut it: it will start going brown quickly as soon as is exposed to the air.
Cut or break off as much of the tough leaves around the base as you can. Then keep snapping off the leaves – they’ll get easier to snap as they get thinner – until you get to the furry choke. It feels and looks a bit like a shaving brush.
You need to “pluck” the “hair” of the choke out; a serrated grapefruit spoon or similar works well, pinching them between the spoon and your thumb. You need to work fast, it goes brown quickly – rub occasionally with the slice of lemon (I didn’t work fast enough!).
Pare all around the base of the artichoke, leaving the stalk but stripping the outer layer off.
Put the base in the lemon water until you’re ready to finely slice it.
Preparing the fennel bulbs for slicing
Choose fennel as white and fresh as you can find. I find the taste intensifies the older it is.
Cut around the top, removing the stalks and fronds, and cut off the base.
Remove the outer layer.
Preparing the salad
1. Finely slice a layer of fennel onto a large plate, or individual plates for a more formal dinner. A mandolin is really the best for getting a micro thin slice. I use a Microplane handheld mandolin that’s adjustable, with a dial you can turn to set the fineness of the slice, which I left barely open to slice it as paperthin as possible.
2. Dress it with a drizzle of the olive oil and truffle oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkling of fleur de sel and a twist of the pepper mill.
3. Do the same for a layer of artichoke.
4. Continue alternating the fennel and artichoke, dressing each layer.
5. Make shavings of parmesan with a vegetable peeler, or the mandolin, and scatter them over the top.
6. Scatter the parsley over the top.
7. Finish with a final drizzle of oil and lemon juice.
Don’t delay in serving! (It’s too good!)