Chez Panisse alums changed the way we eat and cook food

Chez Panisse and its founder, Alice Waters, helped forge a new path for — and…

Chez Panisse and its founder, Alice Waters, helped forge a new path for — and awareness of — what seasonal cooking can be, thanks to her dedication to local farmers and organic agriculture. She started the Edible Schoolyard Initiative to teach children about food and gardens, and the list of her accolades, including a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, is long.

But her legacy — and that of her fabled Berkeley restaurant, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month — also includes one of the most impressive alumni rosters in culinary history: kitchen behemoths, innovators and influencers, many of whom, like Waters, have gone on to challenge and change the way we eat, cook and even conceptualize food and farming. Many are James Beard Award winners and nominees. The well of notable Chez Panisse alums — whether from the downstairs restaurant, the upstairs cafe or both — is deep. Here are 22 to know.

For the record:

5:45 p.m. Aug. 23, 2021

This story has been updated to say that Oliveto is a long-standing Oakland establishment. A prior version said the restaurant was located in Berkeley.

Los Angeles

Suzanne Goin

Before she co-founded groundbreaking Los Angeles restaurants A.O.C., Lucques, the Hungry Cat and Tavern — and, most recently, A.O.C. Brentwood — Goin worked at Chez Panisse in the early ’90s. (Her first job was to prep the mixed field greens for Waters’ famous green salad; eventually she worked her way up to line cook.) Since opening Lucques in 1998 with business partner Caroline Styne, Goin has remained a pioneer in California cuisine, local sourcing and wine-driven menus — all hallmarks of Chez Panisse.

Vivian Ku

This former Chez Panisse extern went on to open Pine & Crane, bringing traditional, family-inspired and craveable Taiwanese food to Silver Lake in 2014, followed by Joy in Highland Park and breakfast pop-up Today Starts Here in Chinatown (set to be incorporated into a forthcoming downtown restaurant). Ku’s work is distinguished by a mix of seasonality and simplicity and dedication to craft, similar to that of Chez Panisse.

Mark Peel cooked with Waters in Berkeley before returning to Los Angeles to open Spago and eventually, the chef’s seminal Los Angeles restaurant, Campanile, which he opened with then-partner Nancy Silverton. Here, Peel is pictured in the upstairs of Campanile in 2012.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Mark Peel

One of L.A.’s most formidable and influential chefs, Peel — who died in June — arrived at Chez Panisse in 1980 and served as assistant pastry chef and an early mentee of Waters’. He returned to L.A. to help open Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago, where Peel served as the chef de cuisine, and eventually co-founded La Brea Bakery and the momentous Campanile with his then-wife, Nancy Silverton, in turn training and mentoring his own litany of notable chefs. More recently Peel operated the fast-casual, sustainable-seafood concept Prawn Coastal in Grand Central Market and briefly in Pasadena.

Jonathan Waxman

After cooking with Waters at Chez Panisse in the late 1970s, Waxman headed to L.A. and became executive chef of Michael’s Santa Monica, where he continued to introduce diners to California cuisine. Beyond Los Angeles, Waxman’s robust career included Jams, which brought California cuisine to New York City, and later Jams in London; Table 29 in Napa Valley; Adele’s in Nashville; and Barbuto, also in New York City.

Beyond L.A.

Dan Barber

Informed in part by his time cooking at Chez Panisse (as well as Campanile), Barber co-founded the celebrated Blue Hill restaurants, in New York City and Pocantico Hills, N.Y., which have brought diners a keen awareness of farm sourcing and sustainability.

A man with his chin resting in his hand sits in the cellar at his home.

Chef Paul Bertolli went on to pioneer meat curing and other salumi practices with his company Fra’ Mani.

(Randi Lynn Beach / For the Times)

Paul Bertolli
The former Chez Panisse executive chef left his mark not only on the restaurant’s history but also its first cookbook, which he co-authored with Waters. His influence didn’t stop there: Bertolli went on to cook at Oliveto, another long-standing Oakland establishment, and later founded Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods, which manufactures artisanal, sustainably sourced salumi for restaurants and retailers.

April Bloomfield

Bloomfield apprenticed at Chez Panisse for one summer after moving to the U.S. from England, and then went on to open New York City modern gastropub the Spotted Pig — as well as the Breslin Bar & Dining Room, among others — with disgraced former business partner Ken Friedman. Currently she is the chef-in-residence of the Mayflower Inn in Connecticut.

Deborah Madison

Madison became enamored of Chez Panisse after her first meal at the restaurant and immediately sought to work there. The produce-minded, sourcing ethos of Chez Panisse stayed with the chef after she left. She was the founding chef of the innovative vegetarian Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, which helped bring vegetarianism — and farm-to-table sourcing — to the rest of the country. Madison is also a cooking teacher, a food writer and an award-winning cookbook author.

Mark Miller

Miller is a pioneer of American Southwest cuisine. After his four-year-stint cooking at Chez Panisse, he founded the groundbreaking Fourth Street Grill and Santa Fe Bar & Grill, both in Berkeley and both capitalizing on bold, non-European flavors. Then he set his sights on Santa Fe, N.M., opening Coyote Cafe, an influential modern Southwestern restaurant.

Russell Moore

After 21 years at Chez Panisse, Moore opened Camino, an eclectic, seasonal restaurant (now closed) fueled by live fire, fermentation and creativity, in Oakland. Moore and his team are running a related, grilled-meat restaurant, the Kebabery, which is moving from Oakland to Berkeley.

Gilbert Pilgram

Pilgram began at Chez Panisse as an intern and went on to become a chef, general manager and partner in the business before leaving to become a chef and owner of the iconic Zuni Café in San Francisco — where he continues to pay homage to his friend and colleague, the late Judy Rodgers.

Judy Rodgers

Rodgers came to dine at Chez Panisse in her early 20s and was encouraged by Waters to cook there. The young chef would become a pillar of California cuisine after she assumed the role of chef — and eventually, owner — of San Francisco’s famed Zuni Café. A kind of Chez Panisse-familiar seasonality dictates the rotating, often-wood-fired menu there. Rodgers died in 2013.

A woman wearing a white blouse leans on a wood banister.

Lindsey Shere stands outside of Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 2019; Shere worked as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse from 1971 until her retirement in 1998 and helped shape a generation of new, seasonally minded bakers.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Lindsey Shere

Shere, the Chez Panisse pastry chef of nearly 30 years, helped open the restaurant with Waters in 1971 and wrote the cookbook “Chez Panisse Desserts.” One of the first California pastry chefs known to institute a seasonally driven dessert menu — now common practice — Shere is an essential figure in the baking revolution of the last few decades.

Peggy Smith

After 17 years of cooking at Chez Panisse, Smith left to start the distribution company Tomales Bay Foods with friend Sue Conley. Soon after, Smith, who gained an awareness and appreciation for cheese at Waters’ restaurant, started fresh- and specialty-cheese company Cowgirl Creamery, also with Conley, in 1997.

Steven Sullivan

Sullivan became the de facto in-house bread baker at Chez Panisse and then left to start the Acme Bread Co., working with his partner and wife, Susie Sullivan. His goal was to bring high-quality, naturally fermented breads baked with whole grains to the masses, and Acme remains a retail and wholesale powerhouse in the Bay Area.

A man in a dark suit and blue scarf stands in front of a Tribeca Film Festival backdrop.

Jeremiah Tower began cooking at Chez Panisse in 1972 and quickly became a partner in the business. He later became a figurehead of California cuisine.

(Taylor Hill / Getty Images)

Jeremiah Tower

A titan of American cuisine, Tower became head chef and, eventually, partner at Chez Panisse, helping to forge not only the restaurant’s culinary identity with Waters but its legacy. After he left, Tower continued cooking in the Bay Area, and then, in 1984, opened Stars in San Francisco, an influential, highly lauded restaurant championing California cuisine.

Christian Washington

One of Chez Panisse’s more recent alums and one to watch, Washington lately has been running pop-ups and community-minded collaborations and events in the Bay Area, including Comfort: A Southern Experience, a food pop-up inspired by family recipes. In June, Washington brought it to Chez Panisse for one day.

Andy Baraghani

Baraghani started his tenure at Chez Panisse as an intern and graduated to the role of line cook, but he would go on to use his kitchen skills to become a media multihyphenate. The food writer, recipe developer, cooking host and senior food editor of Bon Appetit and Healthyish has a cookbook due out next year, “The Cook You Want to Be.”

Carolyn Dille

Though the chef’s tenure at Chez Panisse in the early ’80s was brief, Dille contributed to the iconic “Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook” and became a prolific cookbook author in her own right — in addition to a food writer, poet and teacher.

A smiling woman wearing a dark top.

Samin Nosrat, chef and writer of the book and Netflix series “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.”

(Willy Sanjuan / Invision / Associated Press)

Samin Nosrat

Food writer, TV host, cookbook author and New York Times contributor Nosrat first experienced professional kitchen life at Chez Panisse, working her way up from interning to cooking. She is following her award-winning educational cookbook and Netflix series, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” with a forthcoming book called “What to Cook.”

Cal Peternell

Peternell spent 22 years as a chef at Chez Panisse before branching out into food writing, especially cookbooks; his latest book, “Burnt Toast and Other Disasters,” is due in September. He also took up podcasting, working on nine episodes of “Cooking by Ear,” inviting chefs and celebrities to cook on various episodes and encouraging listeners to cook along with them.

David Tanis

Food writer, New York Times food columnist, recipe developer and cookbook author Tanis spent more than two decades cooking at Chez Panisse, off and on, and is set to reunite with Waters and cook at Lulu, her upcoming restaurant within the Hammer Museum.