I’m back and have found San Francisco (and its inhabitants) as gorgeous as ever. Sunshine, beautiful views, wonderful people, great food and a few days of rest and fun before heading into my first stage at Chez Panisse. One of California’s best-loved and most-respected restaurants, it has an impeccable ethos, serving the finest sustainably-sourced, organic, and seasonal ingredients, prepared with love, talent and unwavering care. Simple, yet brilliant – and representative of everything I admire and aspire to as a chef. So, it wasn’t really a surprise to find myself shaking with nerves and excitement at the prospect of spending a fortnight in their kitchens. I had been assigned to work in the restaurant, which serves a set menu each night (as opposed to the upstairs café’s more informal, à la carte menu). At 1.30pm, I arrived to meet the restaurant team, who were relaxed and friendly, whilst awesomely knowledgeable and passionate about food. With one chef off sick, I was truly thrown in at the deep end – Jerome, the chef in charge that night, assigned the starter to me, which – under his guidance – I prepped and served up to 100 guests:

Monday, November 2, $60
  • Frisée and rocket salad with confit gesiers, hearts, pancetta, green beans and liver toast
  • Poulet à lestragon: spit-roasted Soul Food Farm chicken with tarragon, crème fraîche, wild mushrooms, and fried potatoes
  • Meyer lemon meringue tartlet with huckleberries
I’m learning that Chez Panisse not only makes its customers extremely happy, but it seems that you’d be hard-pushed to find a happier workforce, too. Unlike the grim-faced, ashen, exhausted creatures who inhabit some of London, Paris or New York’s leading restaurant kitchens, the cooks here genuinely love their work – this isn’t some ordeal to survive in order to bolster their CVs and to prove they can hack the worst that can possibly be thrown at them. Many have been Chez Panisse for two decades or more and obviously take enormous pleasure and pride in their work – and each other. I didn’t here a single raised voice or cross word – just encouragement and gentle, constructive criticism where needed, which was always received with grace. Split shifts (where you work two shifts back-to-back with a short break in between) are totally frowned upon as it’s genuinely understood that cooks working longer than a 9-hour day are too exhausted to work properly – and, more importantly, to have a life of their own outside of work. All very sensible, but sadly, all too rare in most restaurants. (The café chefs doing the early shift start at 7am, but go home at about 4pm, handing over to the evening team). Too perfect to be true? Time will tell, but it’s not just the food that they seem to be getting completely right here.

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