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What Would Alice Waters Do?

I'm done with picky eaters.

I'm done with men who treat me like a menu off of which they can order à la carte. Men who want a single dish of olives and that's it. Men who want sixteen servings of pie with extra whipped cream. Men who come to the restaurant and say that if they can smell even a whiff of the steak searing in the kitchen, they'll leave.

Enter the Golden Age of Chez Panisse

My absolute favourite restaurants have always been of the “sit down and shut up and eat what I'm giving you” school of thought. I've always found à la carte presumptuous. How could I possibly know the chef's business better than he does? How could I create the beautiful sensory journey he does? It's not my restaurant, not my vision, not my food: it's his, and it comes from his heart. I wouldn't go to a museum to look at The Starry Night and say, “well, I'll take the blue swirlies but get those funny yellow stars away from me.” If I accept what he wants to give me, I will probably be much happier than if I order randomly from a list. And he'll be happier too. Everybody will be happier. And that's what makes the world go 'round.

Discovery and inspiration also make the world go 'round and what bugs me about people who go to Delfina and order pasta pomodoro and a Diet Coke (for instance) is that they're denying themselves the chance to go somewhere new. Rather, they're so keen to control their own lives, they won't let someone else take them somewhere new. Even if that someone is a master guide whose living room is papered with teary-eyed letters from housewives he took to the Himalayas, paraplegics he took to Madrid, and pygmies he took to Dorset.

Put down the bliffing Diet Coke. It's disgusting anyway. I've never understood people who drink it. Now go online and try, desperately, to get a reservation over in Berkeley. You will fail. Try until you succeed. It is totally irrelevant what the menu says you'll be eating for dinner that night. It is totally irrelevant whether you think you “like” or “don't like” that kind of food, because in Alice Waters's hands, there's no such thing as chicken, or salt, or butter. There's only notes in a great symphony of the five senses, that reveal the world to your emotional self in a thousand harmonious and beautiful ways as the dinner progresses. A symphony that you remember years afterward. Alice Waters could serve me a pig's ear and I would love it. She may have already done so.

Alice is an eveningsmith. She orchestrates every element of everything so that it is humanely beautiful and casually perfect. Take one element away, diminishment. Add one element, too much. She's like Mozart in that way. And she has Mozart's profound understanding of and love for humanity and life, and his desire to celebrate those things. It would be a gross insult and the height of ignorance to order a salad, when what she's offering you is the culmination of a lifetime of philosophy and love.

I planned to talk about my desire to be accepted as a whole person, but I have ended up reminding myself to let artists touch my life in the way they need to, because it will make my life richer. So perhaps today's tango lesson is that in an ideal world, it has to go both ways: go ahead and be done with people who only want a piece of you. And in exchange, when you decide whether or not you are going to accept someone else, either accept the whole person in the exact way they're presenting themselves to you, or turn them down. —A local author once wrote a memoir in which she spends most of the book always accepting what's offered, as a philosophical credo. I don't believe that's necessary. But if you happen to find yourself, somehow, with today's version of Wonka's Golden Ticket—a reservation at Chez Panisse—for God's sake don't be an idiot and say, “well, why can't I have the salmon, and I want it made with margarine not butter, and I want the sauce on the side, and leave off the seeds, and I want extra mayonnaise, and make it mild, and, and, and." —And really don't be an idiot and turn it down. A single evening at Chez Panisse will change your life forever.

Say yes. You will be very glad you did.

The Menu for Chez Panisse, Monday, February 4th

Blood orange and fennel salad with sheeps milk ricotta and Picholine olive vinaigrette
Gigot à la ficelle: Watson Ranch lamb leg cooked in the fireplace with Béarnaise sauce, fried potatoes, and mustard greens
Pink Lady apple crêpes with candied walnuts and Calvados