A fire early Friday destroyed the front porch of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant -- one of America’s most famous eateries and the birthplace of California cuisine.
An emotional Alice Waters told reporters she would rebuild and the restaurant -- opened in 1971 -- would once again be a favored destination for food connoisseurs.
“The extent of the damage is the front porch which of course was built from the very beginning,” said Alice as she battled tears. “It was a very historic piece that has disappeared in the flames and the beautiful old wisteria is cut down to the ground.”
Paul Aratow and Waters opened Chez Panisse on Shattuck Avenue in 1971 and its use of locally grown organic foods gave birth to the California cuisine movement. The alumni from its kitchen staff include many of the nation’s top chefs including Jeremiah Tower, Mark Miller Judy Rodgers and Gilbert Pilgram.
Waters said the café portion for the restaurant would be open soon “depending on the damage.”
“It’s always smoky in the restaurant because we have fires (in the wood burning stoves),” said Waters attempting a smile. “We’ll just have to burn the rosemary.”
The fire, the famed chef, started between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. in the morning.
“It hasn’t caused any structural damage to the beams in the main building,” she said. “I feel real lucky (that the damage was not more extensive).”
Berkeley fire officials said they got a call reporting the fire at the famed restaurant at 3:04 a.m.
According to fire officials, a working sprinkler system inside the building greatly helped stop the fire from spreading to the entire structure.
The fire was brought under control at about 4:27 a.m.
It is the second time a fire has damaged the restaurant. A fire left the building heavily damaged on March 7, 1982.
“It almost burned down the first time,” Waters said. “This is bringing back memories of that.”