Local, farm-to-table, nose-to-tail. It’s hard to believe that without the influence of individuals like Alice Waters, these are not words we would have used to describe American cooking. When Grace and I traveled around the country for the book tour, we were delighted by how many great restaurants there are around the country – from in Minneapolis to in Athens, Georgia to in Philly. This food awareness, an understanding of the importance of locally grown and organic is something that Alice Waters has been working to support for the last forty years.
For those who know about Alice Waters it’s not surprising learn that a semester abroad in France, helped shaped Alice’s attitude about food. But it was another city that helped define the way she would communicate about food – London – where Alice trained at a Montessori school. The Montessori method emphasizes practical and hands-on activities for children. The ideas are evident in Alice’s idea of an “edible education” and in her Edible Schoolyard, which encourages children to participate in the process growing, preparing, serving and eating their food. –Amy Azzarito
Alice Waters co-founded Chez Panisse in 1971. After her experience eating in France, not only did she miss mornings of hot baguettes served with apricot jams, and cafe au laits served in bowls, but she had also become completely captivated with the French aesthetic – of paying attention to every little detail. She was determined to bring that attention to detail to Chez Panisse. Her biggest decision was that the dinner menu would offer no choices. The menu would be new every night but it would be set – like going to someone’s house for a dinner party. In the early days of Chez Panisse, sourcing ingredients was an ever-present problem. Not only did they haunt supermarkets of Chinatown and the specialty food shops in Berkeley, but they also developed a hunter-gather culture – literally gathering watercress from streams, taking herbs from the gardens of friends and picking wild fennel by the roadside. Alice believed in the Montessori principle of learning while doing and brought that philosophy into the restaurant. No job was too menial – cooks washed their own dishes. And everyone, even the dishwashers, were expected to love food. Alice worked nearly every single day. Occasionally overworking herself to the point that her nervous system would shut down and she would become temporarily blinded.
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The only break in the frenetic pace that she set for herself was when her daughter was born. Fanny was the inspiration for , a program founded by Alice as a way to revamp the way that children in American eat. And when Fanny went to Yale, Alice helped start the . And back at Chez Panisse, the search for the best ingredients has lead to a long-standing cooperation between local chefs and small-scale growers. Isn’t it inspiring that a passion for baguettes in the morning, could lead to changing the face of the way the country eats? Thank you, Alice Waters!
(For more about Alice Waters, check out by Thomas NcNamee. I found it hugely fascinating and inspiring.)
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