The Chez Panisse Cookbook (New York: Random House. $16.95) by Alice Waters is a fascinating cookbook by an unusual person who is an internationally acclaimed, home-grown American chef - and more. She is also a successful woman in the male-dominated world of food and professional cooking.
Because of the superior country-style French cooking served at her restaurant , Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif., this is one of the few American restaurants that has received praises from French chefs abroad.
Alice Waters has developed a way of cooking that was first inspired by the food she enjoyed in France, but she is now concerned with adapting French cuisine to local products.
She says she often finds that more time is involved in selecting the right combinations of foods than in the actual cooking of them.
In a rustic, two-story building, she offers unique fare. There is only one four-course, fixed-price meal each night. There are no substitutions or choices, but every night since the restaurant opened 10 years ago, there has been a different menu.
This adds up to nearly 4,000 different dinners and who knows how many different dishes - all of which is wonderful material for a cookbook. Not only does the restaurant menu change constantly, but there are often weekend festivals.
The section of the book devoted to these festivals shows a tremendous variety. There are those featuring the cuisines of Brittany, Alsace, le Perigord , Louisiana, and Northern California. There are festival recipes celebrating the vernal equinox, famous persons such as Salvadore Dali and Gertrude Stein, and flowers - even one called a vacation dinner.
One of the most famous, and the one that first drew my attention to Chez Panisse, was her series of garlic dinners when she was probably the first restaurant in the country to serve whole baked garlic as a separate vegetable.
The restaurant has always been a team effort, and Chez Panisse has produced many chefs who have left and started their own restaurants.
Several of her colleagues are mentioned in the new book, including: Linda Guenzel, who collaborated on the book, and Jeramiah Tower, an experimental chef with a fine palate. David Lance Goines, designer of the restaurant's menus and posters, created the book's handsome cover.