Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Food Culture of Alice Waters

When you eat fast food, you not only eat the food that is unhealthy for you, but you digest the values that comes with that food. And they're really about fast, cheap and easy. It's so important that we understand that things can be affordable, but they can never be cheap, because, if they're cheap, somebody's missing out. The fast food culture tells us that, you know, cooking is not something important, and it can be in the basement, it can be in the back, when, in fact, it's the most important work that we do. I think it is the unrealistic values of a fast food culture that are really making us very unhappy, that we're all going a little crazy. We spend as much searching for our cell phone than we do preparing a meal.
~Alice Waters, "Brief But Spectacular"

With her new memoir coming out, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, we thought we'd give a little blog space to Alice Waters, often called "the mother of American cooking." Alice Waters opened a little restaurant called Chez Panisse in 1971 in Berkeley, California, and in the 40-plus years since has been a tireless advocate for organic food, slow food, school lunch reform, and local sustainable agriculture. She's been the recipient of several awards and honors - her 2015 National Humanities Medal "proving that eating is a political act, and that the table is a powerful means to social justice and positive change. "

Eating at Chez Panisse looks like a tremendous experience. The Restaurant is downstairs, offering a three to four course dinner with the menu changing nightly, "each [course] designed to be appropriate to the season and composed to feature the finest sustainably sourced, organic, peak-of-their-season ingredients, including meat, fish, and poultry." The Café, upstairs, features "moderately priced à la carte menu for both lunch and dinner." The website describes the experience more poetically than we could ever hope to:

Alice and Chez Panisse are convinced that the best tasting food is organically and locally grown, and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. The quest for such ingredients has always determined our cuisine. For over 45 years, Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight from the sea. In doing so, Chez Panisse has established a close network of suppliers who, like the restaurant, strive for both environmental harmony and delicious flavor.

But, don't think Alice Waters herself will be whipping up your dishes. Since the birth of her daughter in the early 1980s, Alice Waters has served as executive chef - she "contribute[s] to the collaboration of the kitchen...oversees Chez Panisse, writes cookbooks, helps design menus and tries to preserve local food traditions," but she hasn't cooked anything in their kitchen in 30 years. There are a variety of chefs at Chez Panisse - different ones for the restaurant, the café, for pastry - and alumni of the kitchens include Jeremiah Tower, Samin Nosrat, and Cal Peternell.

Are you interested in food activism? Alice Waters supports Slow Food International, which is concerned with topics such as bee population decline, food waste, protecting family farming, and GMOs, and she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project, with its mission being "to build and share a national edible education curriculum for pre-kindergarten through high school...envision[ing] gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms for all academic subjects, and a sustainable, delicious, and free lunch for every student." Do you agree with her about the importance of "help[ing] people understand the relation of food to agriculture and relationship of food to culture?" Even if you're not as hardcore as Alice Waters, you might still enjoy her cookbooks - New York Times bestsellers and recommended for "everyone who wants to learn to cook, or wants to become a better cook." Learn more about the food culture of Alice Waters with some of the titles listed below.

For Children

Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Fanny in France: With French Adventures and French Recipes by Alice Waters

Cookery by Alice Waters

My Pantry

The Art of Simple Food and The Art of Simple Food II

In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn By Heart

Chez Panisse Fruit

Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook


American Masters: Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution

In addition to her own books, Waters has provided the foreword to cookbooks by various other chefs, including Joanne Weir, David Tanis, Cecilia Chiang, the Cheese Board staff, and, one of our favorites, Niloufer Ichaporia King, if you're interested in other cookbooks with a similar ethos.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Alice Waters [First We Feast]

Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, and Her Farm-To-Table Journey [CNN]

Life's Work: An Interview with Alice Waters [HBR]

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