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chez Tanis

Who says chefs don’t cook at home? Chez Panisse’s David Tanis debunks the popular myth, just in time for the holidays. By Jessica Battilana Photography by Joe Vaughn 110 7x7sf

7x7.COM DEC/JAN 2008

p h oto c r e d i t t k t k

DEC/JAN 2008 7x7.COM

7x 7sf 111

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t’s 11 o’clock on the morning of his holiday dinner party, and David Tanis, chef of Chez Panisse, is already in the thick of it—potatoes are frying on the stove, a pot of braising liquid containing a prehistoric-looking octopus is sitting on the counter and a pan of prawns awaits the paella pan. Ever the consummate host, he takes a break to offer me a cup of thick espresso before showing me a scrap of paper on which he’s scrawled in shorthand the complete menu he’s preparing for a dozen of his friends: squidink paella topped with Santa Barbara spot prawns; potato-and-egg tortilla; roasted piquillo peppers filled with goat cheese; pork kebabs with Arabic spices known as pinchos moruños; almonds roasted with rosemary; octopus salad; and garlicky toasts topped with anchovies. Tanis, upon first meeting, seems somewhat reserved. Yet, over the course of a day spent at his bungalow in the Berkeley Hills—which he shares with longtime partner Randal Breski and their nine-yearold Venice-born fox terrier, Arturo—I catch him breaking into song (in Spanish), dancing (to jazz, with old friend Davia Nelson, the coproducer behind the publicradio program Hidden Kitchens) and exclaiming over a meal of his own creation with disarming enthusiasm (“Now that,” he crows, setting down a platter of paella, “is abbondanza!”). Anyone hungry for who has ever been more? visit intimidated by the 7x7.cOm and click on “eat very thought of a big+drink” for name chef would be the recipes. charmed by Tanis, who saves his bravado for his food—which speaks loudly, and well, on his behalf. Tanis has been chef at Chez Panisse since the early ’80s, sharing duties with Jean-Pierre Moullé. They split the year between them—six months on for each, followed by six months off. Tanis spends his away time in Paris, in an apartment he

ALL THE FIXINGS (clockwise from top left): Anchovy toasts are a quick and humble snack; this is a menu made for casual entertaining—Chez Panisse cooks Nico Monday and Amelia O’Reilly dig in standing up, no place settings required; Tanis’s philosophy is to keep things simple—rosemary-roasted almonds and lengths of Spanish chorizo are this chef’s idea of an hors d’oeuvre; gently simmered octopus emerges tender, not chewy. (Opposite): The octopus gets its finishing touches—pickled onions and a sprinkling of pímenton de la vera, a smoky Spanish paprika.


The first rule of a good party? Keep the drinks flowing. Here’s our how-to.

WhiTe To sTaRT

Then a BiG sPanish ReD

oR a Glass of sheRRY

anD foR a laTe-niGhT siP ...

Tanis likes to serve spanish whites, such as Albariño or Txakolina—an unusual white from the Basque region of northern spain that, he says “is just fun to drink”—with this menu. He recommends the 2006 Do ferreiro Albariño ($25) or a Txakolina such as Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina ($20), both of which go well with seafood.

A spanish red would be a natural pairing with this rustic menu, such as the 2005 Bodegas Condado de Haza Tinto Ribera del Duero ($24) or the 2004 Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja ($26), both of which have enough body, minerality and fruit to stand up to cured meats, rich cheeses and garlic.

sherry is a popular beverage at tapas bars throughout spain, where it is sipped at all times of the day. Tanis recommends the chilled fino variety, such as Hildago “La Gitana” Manzanilla ($12) or Lustau Puerto fino ($15). A good dry sherry is nice for pairing with the Manchego; try Lusata “Los Arcos” Amontillado ($15).

A lager-style beer wouldn’t be out of place with this menu. Cruzcampo is a popular spanish variety, but Dos Equis would be a good substitute. Also nice to have on hand: a bottle of J&B Whisky ($17.49), a Tanis favorite and good for taking the chill off a winter evening. Wines and whisky available at K&L Wine Merchants,

112 7x7sf

7x7.COM DEC/JAN 2009

p h oto c r e d i t t k t k

DEC/JAN 2008 7x7.COM

7x 7sf 113

fOOD feature feature

114 7x7sf

7x7.COM DEC/JAN 2008

and Breski have kept since 1991. In addition to his chef duties, Tanis also published his first cookbook, A Platter of Figs (Artisan) in September. The book is broken into 24 menus that, taken together, underscore Tanis’ food philosophy (“simple is best”) and showcase the breadth of his repertoire, which runs the gamut from “Slightly All-American” to “A Simple Moroccan Supper.” Cooking at home is something Tanis does almost every day. Even after a night at the restaurant, Tanis and Breski make time, often after midnight, to share a simple meal together—tacos, maybe, or a salad or bowl of soup. As for his penchant for eating, and entertaining, at home, Tanis simply shrugs. “A lot of times, people who work in restaurants choose places [to have dinner] that are homey to them. Otherwise, they can’t really relax; they feel they’re critiquing the whole time. But for me, there’s no place homier than home.” While most home cooks might not feel at ease with a paella pan the size of a bicycle wheel, Tanis has clearly done this before. He balances it on an Indian wood-burning grill—a gift from San Francisco-based cookbook author Niloufer Ichaporia King— stoking the fire with sticks gathered from the backyard. Together with friend Nico Monday (a get the recipes, sources fellow cook at Chez Panisse), and tips for re-creating he sautées the prawns in olive this feast at 7x7.cOm oil until the shells turn rosy, (click on “eat + drink”.) removing them before proceeding to cook the onions with saffron. Then he adds the squid ink, Spanish rice and water, all the while educating me on the origins of this dish—originally a peasant meal cooked in the rice fields of Valencia, Spain, it employed such land-based ingredients as rabbit, snails and beans rather than the plethora of seafood that has come to characterize this dish. Tanis loves to cook, especially at home, even on his day off. As he writes in the introduction to his book, “I like building a meal. I believe there’s joy and amusement inherent in the cooking process, in putting the food into companionable serving vessels, in gathering in the kitchen and at the table, and in all the many little and big aesthetic decisions along the way.” The party is an

READY, SET (clockwise from top left): Tanis eschews high-tech kitchen implements in favor of simple tools, such as sharp knives, earthenware bowls and an impressive collection of mortars and pestles; the party begins with tumblers of Txakolina, a Spanish white; Arturo, the couple’s fox terrier, inspired the name of Tanis and Breski’s occasional Parisian supper club, Aux Chiens Lunatiques; membrillo (a condiment made from quince cooked with lemon and sugar) pairs perfectly with sheep’s-milk Manchego cheese; guests serve themselves from the buffet and grab a fireside seat; for his anchovy toasts, Tanis prefers to use salt-packed anchovies from Italy, which he fillets, then soaks in a bowl of warm water; Tanis and Breski keep their Berkeley bungalow minimally furnished—the open space is ideal for a gathering or impromptu dancing.

I belIeve there’s joy and amusement inherent in the cooking process. expression of this joy: Tanis putters around in the kitchen all day, roasting almonds with rosemary and olive oil until crisp, flipping the tortilla with an acumen that shows off his skills and charging Monday and Breski with the task of stuffing the piquillo peppers. As the first guests begin to arrive, Breski refills my glass of sherry, adds a log to the fireplace and puts plates on the table. The food, arranged so artfully that it resembles a still life, is all intended to be served at room temperature—there’s no last-minute fussing in the kitchen. “You don’t need to set the table, and there’s no real beginning or end to the meal. It’s perfect for a group,” says Tanis. No formal announcement marks the meal’s start either, but there’s no need—the guests gravitate to the well-laden table, cutting slices of cheese and chorizo, anointing their paella with dollops of aïoli and digging into an extraordinary feast that, at least in Tanis’ world, is a perfectly ordinary occurrence. x DEC/JAN 2009 7x7.COM

7x 7sf 115

7x7 : Dinner with Chez Panisse's David Tanis / Dec 2008  

7x7 Magazine Jessica Battilana Dinner with Chez Panisse's David Tanis, with recipes December 2008

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