A Possibly True Story

There is this really great story I once heard about Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame (which is fantastic and one should make a point of eating there if the opportunity ever arrises). I’m not sure if it’s true and have searched the internet to try to see if I can find it again to no avail. That said, it is one of those legendary stories that sounds like it could be true, simply because it rings so close to the personality of the protagonist. It goes something like this…
Alice Waters sources the food served each night at Chez Panisse through a network of local farmers and growers. What is served on the plate each evening is usually selected and delivered earlier that day. Often times, Chef Waters does this personally.
One day, she visited a fruit grower to find perfectly tree ripened pears. She knew immediately that she must have these to serve her guests that night. The grower happily picked, packed and delivered them to her kitchen.
As the day progressed, and she began to prepare that evening’s menu, her mind kept coming back to the puzzle of how to serve those pears. She swore to herself that she had never seen a more perfect pear and wanted to conjure a recipe that would bring out their best.
Now, let me take a slight detour to tell you a bit about her restaurant. It is legendary. It’s generally regarded as one of the top restaurants in the world. Founded in 1971, the entire local and organic food movement in America can trace large sections of it’s roots back to Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Because the menu changes daily based on local ingredients, there is only one prix fixe menu and you pay whatever it costs. It will cost a lot and you will not regret a single bite nor penny spent for it will be one of the best and most memorable meals of your life.
And so it was, the evening’s guests arrived for their reservations that night, fully prepared to spend several days salary on the dining experience to come. And come it did as always. Course after course of some of the most fresh and deftly crafted plates they would ever eat, delivered by an expert staff that explained the motivations and stories Chef Waters wished to tell of each one.
Then, finally, after the main course plates and silver were cleared, fresh silver delivered, drinks topped off… Desert! The wait staff appears from the kitchen, domed plates held aloft as they quickly fanned to each table in what one might read as choreographed chaos. As the plates arrive, the wait staff take pains to explain to each guest the unusual nature of what was to come. You see, Chef Waters found this pear tree in the orchard of one of her favorite local growers. The tree had a bounty of the most perfectly ripened pears she had ever come across. She knew she had to serve them that night, for to save them for tomorrow would be too late. They had to be served, but how? How could she honor this pear with a dish that allowed it to shine on the palate, befitting it’s true nature, neigh, to sing? With this, the dome was removed and upon that plate rested…
A single pear.
You see, even Alice had to eventually admit that there was no way even one of the greatest chefs in the world could improve upon that pear. There was no dish or accompaniment she could use to feature or enhance such perfection. Sometimes, the greatest artistry even a master can perform, and the greatest gift one can give, is to leave something alone.

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