How Chez Panisse Inspired Samin Nosrat To Get Serious About Food

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In more than 50 years of food service, countless chefs have passed through the kitchen of California farm-to-table restaurant Chez Panisse, and have left inspired by the exquisite craft involved in its food. What you might not know is that "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" author Samin Nosrat was one of those chefs (via The New York Times).

Chez Panisse is a now-legendary restaurant that was opened in 1971 by Alice Waters when she was only 27. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the restaurant started as a simple, French-inspired, no-fuss dining experience (on its opening night, a three-course meal cost only $3.95). Years later, Waters would bring a locally sourced, ingredient-forward style of cooking to Berkeley that would go on to change American culinary ideas forever. Smithsonian Magazine notes that Waters' emphasis on local food would help create and define a uniquely Californian cuisine. Bon Appétit has called Chez Panisse "arguably the most influential American restaurant in history," and Yale history professor Paul Freedman also included it in his book of "Ten Restaurants That Changed America."

Nosrat got her start in Chez Panisse

As Samin Nosrat told The New York Times, she was attending University of California, Berkeley, with vague ideas of becoming a writer before getting a job at Chez Panisse in 2000. The East Bay Times says that Nosrat and her boyfriend at the time saved $220 to have dinner at Chez Panisse — it's a meal that she lovingly describes in detail in her James Beard Award-winning book, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking." Inspired by the frisée aux lardons salad, fish in broth and guinea hen, and raspberry sauce-filled chocolate soufflé, Nosrat wrote to Waters about the impact of the meal, asking for a job. Nosrat says she was hired to bus tables, but that moving about in this heightened and deliberate world inspired her to something greater. 

"I'm an immigrant kid, a perfectionist over-worker, and suddenly I was surrounded by everybody who took everything so seriously but in the most thoughtful way," she told The New York Times.

Nosrat would work her way up the ladder to learn her first lessons in cooking (such as the way acidic tomatoes pair well with rich cheeses) in the Chez Panisse kitchen (via East Bay Times). Those would become many of the same lessons she shared in her book, and later in the Netflix series of the same name.