The Interview: Alice Waters

Days before Chez Panisse reopens to the public, Alice Waters talks exclusively to Raj Mathai

She is petite and soft-spoken, but Alice Waters is a force of nature. She opened her famed restaurant Chez Panisse more than 40 years ago, and now she's preparing to reopen it, nearly four months after a fire caused serious damage.

NBC Bay Area visited Waters at Chez Panisse just days before the reopening. Instead of being filled with customers, the restaurant was crowded with carpenters and contractors.

Sitting down for an exclusive interview amid wood, jackhammers and miter saws, Waters was emotional remembering getting an early morning call about the fire.

"My general manager Jennifer woke me up at about 5 in the morning and she said don't panic, but there has been a fire at the restuarant and I think you should come over now," Waters recalled. "I got up and I was kind of stunned, and it took me a little moment to realize that I needed to run, get in a car, and come over to the restaurant."

Since the restaurant was damaged but not destroyed, longtime carpenter and contractor friends worked at a fevered pace to rebuild Chez Panisse.

"It's still unimaginable that we could be opening up in 11 days," Waters said. "There's no windows, and there are 25 people hammering and nailing, and you just see all the equipment. Nothing is in the restaurant — no dishes, chairs, or tables. It's all gone." 

Waters was convinced weeks ago that it would be ready on June 21. 

That's when Chez Panisse reopens with a benefit for The Edible Schoolyard, a non-profit that started 17 years ago as a small garden at Martin Luther King Middle School, just three blocks from the restaurant.

"I call this edible education, where food is connected to the curriculum of every subject," Waters said.

Chez Panisse opens to the public on Monday.

You can watch the full interview with Raj Mathai at the top of this page.

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