Jérôme Waag Departing Chez Panisse to Open His Own Project in Tokyo

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Chez Panisse downstairs co-chef Jérôme Waag. Photo courtesy of Jérôme Waag.

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Photo from Chez Panisse on Facebook.

Some big news over at ~CHEZ PANISSE~: downstairs co-chef Jérôme Waag will be departing the restaurant in January to embark on a new project of his own in Japan. Waag has worked at Chez Panisse for something like 25 years (he started as a busboy and eventually worked his way up to a sous position) and was appointed co-chef back in 2011 (the position was previously held by David Tanis).

Waag has been traveling to Japan quite often over the past four years, including for an OPENrestaurant event, the unique event series he co-concepted and produced with members of the Chez community and more. He loves Tokyo and its balance of the traditional and the modern.

In a phone call with Waag, he says, “I feel like it was now or never for me to open my own restaurant.” He originally thought about consulting in Japan, but said doors kept opening for him to do his own thing and he felt like he couldn’t say no. He has a couple of partners he’ll be working with—a Japanese chef and an American who lives in Japan—and he plans to move there in the spring. There isn’t a location yet, but he plans to cook in the Chez Panisse style, obviously with Japanese ingredients and influences. He’s looking forward to adapting to his new environment and to “discover myself as a chef.”

He is also really excited by the food history and agriculture of Japan, and how the Japanese are so connected to the land. He says there is a movement of young people who need to take over from the aging population of farmers, and they want to farm sustainably. He can’t wait to explore this larger context, represent some of the Chez Panisse culture in Japan, and “be a part of something bigger there.”

Of his years at Chez, he says he really liked the environment—it was a remarkable opportunity to be able to cook there part-time and explore his creativity and art at the same time (Waag is also an artist). He says, “It gave me a really good, rich life, and the time to do things as an artist.”

Amy Dencler will take Waag’s place, so the two downstairs chefs will be Dencler and Cal Peternell as of the new year. Waag’s last night will be on January 16th, 2016. I so look forward to hearing how things take shape in Japan in the new year for Waag. So exciting. Best wishes!