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Chez Panisse, a small restaurant in Berkeley, California, opened its doors in the summer of 1971. For forty years, the restaurant and legendary chef and founder, Alice Waters, have had a profound influence on food, farming, cooking, and dining around the world. In the beginning, Waters saw the beauty and aesthetic of fine printing as a way to communicate--at the outset of the diners' experience--the care and attention given to the preparation of their dinner.
Berkeley-based artist Patricia Curtan began
hand printing menus for the restaurant during its early years, while she worked as a cook in the Chez Panisse kitchen. Curtan’s menus,
art in their own right, capture the unique spirit of the famous restaurant with letterpress and linoleum block prints on beautiful paper. In Menus for for Chez Panisse, Curtan presents four decades of menus--including dinners for special guests such as Julia Child, Hillary Cinton, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and James Beard--with notes about the menus, the artwork, the occasions, and, of course, the food.
Patricia Curtan is an artist, designer, and printmaker. She has had a long association with Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California as cook, and cookbook co-author, designer, and illustrator. She has designed and printed letterpress and linoleum block special occasion menus for Chez Panisse for several decades. In addition to cookbooks and specialty printing, Patricia has designed images and typography for logo identity, wine labels, product packaging, calendars, note cards, book covers, and broadsides.
Books that Patricia has designed, and in some cases, illustrated and co-authored, include:
• Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone
• Chez Panisse Desserts
• Fanny at Chez Panisse
• Chez Panisse Cooking
• Lulu's Provencal Table
• Chez Panisse Vegetables
• Chez Panisse Fruit
• The Art of Simple Food
• In the Green Kitchen
Linoleum Block Prints
The process of making the prints is three part: drawing, carving and printing. It begins with a pencil drawing, which is transferred to linoleum blocks--a smooth layer of linoleum mounted on wood. The linoleum is carved with a knife and gouges to remove the negative space of the image and leave a raised relief surface. A separate block is cut for each color in the image. The blocks are then printed, one color at a time, on a one-hundred-year old 10 x 15 Chandler & Price letterpress. In some images, some of the blocks are printed multiple times to make layers of color. Some images have as many as twelve blocks and may pass through the press twenty times.
In the summer of 1971, Alice Waters and group of naive and idealistic friends converted a modest two-story Arts and
Crafts house in Berkeley, California, into a restaurant and opened the doors of Chez Panisse. It was an ambitious leap of faith.
I was swept into the adventure early on when, although I had no restaurant experience, I was recruited to fill in for someone who didn't show up for work. Every night was a high-energy production to try to fill the house and wow the clientele with food that they could find nowhere else.
It was clear we really didn't know what we were doing: we were all figuring it out as we went along. A fierce reliance on collaboration and a
willingness to risk and try new things made it an exciting place to be and to learn, and I ended up staying for most of the next twelve years...
...In 1981 Chez Panisse expanded the downstairs kitchen and created an upstairs cafe with its own open kitchen and large dining room, in effect, making
two restaurants under one room. The cafe menu offers an a la carte selection of dishes for lunch and dinner that changes every day. Most of the special menus are printed for dinners in the smaller and more formal downstairs dining room with its single nightly menu.
After cooking for years, I began to raise a family and I returned to another passionate interest. Although my work in the kitchen was nearly all-consuming, I kept my hand in printing and managed along the way to acquire a press and enough equipment to set up a small studio. The transition from working in the fast-paced kitchen, side by side with friends and colleagues, to the solitude of my studio was a bit of a shock. The process was made easier by continued close ties and projects that kept me involved in many ways. The collaboration that began forty years ago (much to our collective amazement) is still ongoing, and the heart of it remains the same--the pleasure and beauty of food.
As I took on printing more menus and other projects, I wanted to combine images with the text and began cutting linoleum blocks. Initial attempts were humbling and frustrating, but I knew from learning to cook that you don't start out as capable as you want to be; the important thing is to keep at it and learn from the mistakes. I persisted and gradually got better at it and, in that respect, these menus document my personal evolution toward mastering a craft. Alongside some of the menus throughout the book are one or more of the blocks used to print the images, and a section at the end of the book...describes the technical printing process in detail.
The menus in this collection are mementos of the spirit of a particular place and time, of cooks and staff who work together to create something beautiful, and the people who gather together to mark times in their lives with the shared pleasures of food and wine, of family and friends.
Excerpted from Menus for Chez Panisse: The Art and Letterpress of Patricia Curtan by Patricia Curtan, copyright © 2011.
Reprinted with permission from Chronicle Books.
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