Early Friday morning, a fire broke out at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Alice Waters' noted temple of organic, locally-grown food. Fire crews responded to the scene on Shattuck Avenue around 3 a.m., but the fire reportedly began several hours earlier.
Although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, NBC Bay Area reports several small fires were set around the building and the iconic facade was severely damaged. “The very beautiful facade of the restaurant is gone,” the proto-locavore Waters told the New York Times. “The fire started under the front porch, and it just burned the whole front porch off. We were very lucky that it happened in the middle of the night and that no one was there. But it’s gone. The beautiful woodwork is gone.”
According to the Berkeley Fire Department, most of the damage was limited to that highly flammable-looking front porch. Although the outside of the wooden, craftsman-style building looks severely crisped, a sprinkler system cleverly disguised as light fixture apparently limited the interior damage.
First look at damage from Chez Panisse restaurant fire. twitter.com/christies_nbc/— Christie Smith (@christies_nbc) March 8, 2013
The was the front dining area of #ChezPanisse Now it's all charred @cbssf twitter.com/CateCauguiran/— Cate Cauguiran (@CateCauguiran) March 8, 2013
On the scene around 6 a.m. this morning Waters looked stunned, but thankful that she had that sprinkler system installed. As she explained to the New York Times, the restaurant could reopen within a week, but the front porch will probably need to be completely rebuilt. Chez Panisse opened in 1971 and also caught fire back in 1982.
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Aside from Chez Panisse and her small empire of restaurants in the Bay Area, Waters is well-known for leading the movement to eat organic, healthy and locally grown foods. She was also instrumental in urging President Obama to install an organic vegetable garden at the White House. Although she's much-loved throughout the foodie world, Waters is not without her critics.