Our commitment to chefs at Quicks Hole includes the opportunity to stage (or intern) at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Considered the birthplace of the farm-to-table movement, Alice Waters’ famous restaurant is a mecca for any young American chef and the opportunity to work there for a few days an extremely plum assignment.
Nat Summerton has worked at Quicks Hole for three years, starting as a line cook, moving his way up to kitchen manager and now sous chef. We were thrilled to be able to offer this special trip to Nat, giving him a chance to see how the world famous Chez Panisse works from the inside out.
Cal Peternell — head chef at Chez Panisse — welcomed us three years ago (you can read all about that visit here), so we knew that Nat was in for a serious treat. Cal has visited Woods Hole as well, led our successful Starry Starry Night dinner three summers ago, and will hopefully be back in the Hole soon, maybe even this summer. Check out Cal’s delightful new cookbook Twelve Recipes, which we consider required reading about keeping it wicked fresh.
Nat flew to San Francisco this month, and he joined the chefs at Chez Panisse who gather daily in the early afternoon to discuss what they plan to cook that evening, as dinner at the main restaurant is a prix fixe menu crafted from the freshest local ingredients grown at partner farms. Nat was astounded to learn that they never work from recipes, just talk about how they might season and prepare the ingredients, how certain elements will compliment others.
From this fairly casual meeting, chefs in crisply ironed jackets move into the kitchen and start to prep. Nat was hands on working over the course of three days — washing the waxy outer layer off cardoons, cleaning trumpet mushrooms, crushing stale bread into freshly made bread crumbs, picking dungeness crab, cleaning duck breasts and more. Best of all was being in the middle of the action, where he observed the other chefs first hand, not only as they prepped but also in service.
“They made me feel I was part of the team,” said Nat on his return. ” I was so impressed by how they talked to each other, the feeling of creativity, the trust Cal had in his team. It was a life changing experience to see that, to be there.”
There are two guest seatings each evening, and in between the chefs gather in a back room for the famed chef’s meal, a chance to taste the same food being served that evening and take a small break from service. Nat really appreciated the incredible sense of camaraderie that this short respite creates, not to mention the chance to taste the creativity on display each evening.
Another highlight of the trip was that Alice Waters herself dined one evening at a special table reserved for her right in the kitchen. “She interacted with all the chefs,” said Nat, “very polite and she treated everyone with the utmost respect.”
Over the course of the three days at Chez Panisse, a number of incredible meals were made. Here are a few to whet your whistle:
Gnocchi all a romana with green garlic, Parmesan, and black truffle.
Seared sea scallops with fennel and curly cress salad with ruby red grapefruit and Prosecco vinaigrette.
It’s incredibly gratifying to watch a young chef like Nat Summerton grow in his craft. Come summer, you can visit with Nat and all our chefs at the Quicks Hole Tavern chef’s table on the second floor open seven days a week. It’s not quite a trip to California, but perhaps there will be small parts of your experience that might be reminiscent of visiting Chez Panisse. We hope so, as we are all just studying at the feet of the master.