Celebrating Chez Panisse's 40th? Here's What You Can Afford

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Nobody does big and sprawling like Alice Waters. In 2008, Waters set in motion Slow Food Nation, which lurched to life like a complex, multigeared machine with a score of moving arms.

Exactly three years later, the wheels are grinding again. To mark the fortieth anniversary of the first meal served at Chez Panisse, on August 28, 1971 (checkered oilcloth, paté, duck with olives), Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation has wound up a series of dinners, parties, film screenings, a book release, and an all-day conceptual happening at the Berkeley Art Museum.

You could always just buy the book.

Most events are fundraisers for various initiatives in edible education (a pursuit so dear to Waters that this fall, the Chez Panisse Foundation will morph into The Edible Schoolyard Project). And though the list of events for the weekend of August 26-28 is confusing, there are three basic things you should know.

First: You couldn’t afford any of the big marquee dinners, even if most weren’t already sold out. For the various dinners tagged Chez Panisse Chez Soi, where cooks and others with a connection to the restaurant serve it up in private homes, per-person admission ranges from half your monthly rent ($500) to the last chunk of credit limit on your last good Visa card ($2,000). Net result: You will not be joining the investment bankers and biotech COOs eating from the pig roasted in Michael Pollan’s North Berkeley backyard (cost: $1,000 per person). Sorry, you just won’t.

Second: Try to get to the Berkeley Art Museum on Saturday, Aug. 27, for OPENeducation, in which Sam White and fellow OPENrestaurant collaborators are planning a lot of cool and crazy stuff to mark Chez Panisse history, including boiling Werner Herzog’s shoe, and harvesting vegetables planted here weeks ago and cooking them onsite. Also, it’s free, though you’ll have to reserve tickets in advance at the Chez Panisse Foundation website.

And third: The awesomely capable Samin Nosrat (Bakesale for Japan, Pop-Up General Store) is coordinating Eating for Education, a list of restaurant benefit dinners and food sales offered nationally on August 27, including ones you could actually afford (coffee at Blue Bottle and Four Barrel, ice cream at Ici, tacos at Xolo and Tacubaya, a sit-down dinner at Cosecha Café, etc.). Scan the full list at the Eating for Education website.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’d just rather enter through the gift shop, Clarkson Potter is releasing an anniversary tribute volume, Forty Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering ($55, goes on sale August 23), which begins in 1964 with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and pretty much ends with ends with Slow Food Nation, which looks a hell of a lot less complex on the page than it was to experience, and almost as impressive.

Get in touch at John.Birdsall@EastBayExpress.com, and follow me on Twitter @John_Birdsall.

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