From Chez Panisse to Silicon Valley: Podcast explores UC Berkeley’s undeniable influence

The Oral History Center's podcast explores UC Berkeley's connections to student housing, Chez Panisse, and Silicon Valley.
The Oral History Center's podcast explores UC Berkeley's connections to student housing, Chez Panisse, and Silicon Valley.

“All good art is political,” as the late legend Toni Morrison once said.

And for fabled restaurateur Alice Waters, food is no exception.

In 1971, Waters, a UC Berkeley alum, launched a culinary revolution: a farm-to-table restaurant called Chez Panisse, with ingredients sourced locally and recipes ruled by the season. In a time when TV dinners reigned supreme and invisible distributors fed the nation, it was a radical premise.

But this was Berkeley, after all; the restaurant is nestled on Shattuck Avenue, a few blocks from campus. For Waters, an activist on campus during the heydey of the Free Speech Movement, revolution was nothing new.

“What Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse team did was probably the most radical gesture in restaurants and cooking in America in the last century,” said food writer Chris Ying, in an interview conducted by The Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center. “It’s important that it happened in Berkeley.”

Now, in the newly released fourth season of its podcast, The Berkeley Remix, the Oral History Center explores the connections between the university and Chez Panisse — and the farm-to-table movement that followed. “Berkeley After Dark,” the third episode of the season, explores how Berkeley’s counterculture movement opened the door for Chez Panisse, and how the campus and eatery grew in tandem in the decades to come.

As a whole, the podcast’s new season, titled “Let There Be Light: 150 Years at UC Berkeley,” is a love letter of sorts to the campus and its legacy — from our dinner plates to modern-day electronics. With three episodes (each around 15 to 20 minutes) the season explores “issues of identity,” the center says — “where we’ve been, who we are now, the impact of Berkeley’s identity as a public institution, and the intertwined history of campus and community.”

The first episode, “Sleeping with the Light On,” explores the history of student housing and its place in the broader social movements of the past century — from racial and gender parity to disability rights. 

The second episode, “Berkeley Lightning,” discusses the open-source culture of UC Berkeley engineering in the ’60s and ’70s and its role in the technological empire of Silicon Valley we know today.

All episodes include audio from interviews conducted by the Oral History Center. Read more about the episodes and listen to the podcast on Library Update.