Alice Waters: Founder of “California Cuisine”
Photography by: Annie Leibovitz
Alice Waters: The Founder of “California Cuisine”
Alice Waters was born on April 28,1944, in Chatham, New Jersey and has become one of the best-known and most influential American chefs since the 1970s. She has been credited with single-handedly creating a culinary revolution in the United States. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 with a degree in French Cultural Studies, and trained at the Montessori School in London before spending a seminal year traveling in France.
She is the founder and co-owner of Chez Panisse, the original “California Cuisine” restaurant in Berkeley, California, as well as the informal Cafe Fanny in West Berkeley. Since opening Chez Panisse in 1971, Alice has maintained a tradition of serving a single fixed-price menu that changes daily. The set menu format remains at the heart of Alice’s philosophy of serving only the highest quality products, only when they are in season.
Ms. Waters is a champion of locally-grown and fresh ingredients. Over the course of three decades, Chez Panisse has developed a network of mostly local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures Chez Panisse a steady supply of pure and fresh ingredients. The upstairs café at Chez Panisse opened in 1980 with an open kitchen, a wood-burning pizza oven, and an à la carte menu. Café Fanny, a stand-up café that serves breakfast and lunch, was opened a few miles away in 1984.
She has promoted the use of organic and small farm products heavily in her restaurants, in her books, and in her Edible Schoolyard Program in the public schools. Her ideas for “edible education” have been introduced into the entire Berkeley school system, and with the current crisis in childhood obesity, have attracted the attention of the national media.
Chez Panisse: Berkeley, California
Lunch with Alice Waters
Lunch with Alice Waters, Food Revolutionary
Ms. Waters recently visited New York City and was invited by Kim Severson, a reporter for The New York Times, to come over and cook lunch at her Brooklyn apartment. Ms. Severson began her article with some degree of worry about what she might have gotten herself into:
“When Alice Waters is coming over to cook lunch, the first thing you do is look around your house and think, I live in a dump.
Then you take an inventory of the pantry. The bottles of Greek and Portuguese olive oil, once a point of pride, suddenly seem inadequate. And should you hide the box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran and jettison those two cans of Diet Pepsi?
At the end of the afternoon, when the last peach was peeled and my kitchen was stacked with dirty pots, it didn’t really matter. Ms. Waters was either too polite or too distracted to mention what was in my cupboard. It turns out she travels with her own olive oil, anyway. And homemade vinegar. And salt-packed capers.
Ms. Waters had agreed to spend a hot September day shopping with me at the Union Square Greenmarket and schlepping back to my first-floor apartment in brownstone Brooklyn to make lunch.
The menu was dictated by two things: the market’s offerings and the recipes in her forthcoming book, “The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes From a Delicious Revolution” (Clarkson Potter, October).
The book is more to Ms. Waters than an instructional guide. It is her attempt, through recipes, to save the American food supply. She wrote it because she still believes a plate of delicious food can change everything.
“We’re trying to educate young people and show them how to use that lens of ingredients as a way to change their lives,” she said. “Otherwise, it would be just another cookbook.”
The book is Ms. Waters’s ninth since she started Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., 36 years ago. Unlike the others, the new book does not use the name of the restaurant. It reads more like an organic “Joy of Cooking,” designed to instruct novices on how to make a perfect vinaigrette but also intended to be as essential to experienced cooks as the final Harry Potter installment was to 12-year-olds.
“Food can be very transformational and it can be more than just about a dish,” she said. “That’s what happened to me when I first went to France. I fell in love. And if you fall in love, well, then everything is easy.”
(Currently, Ms. Waters is not in love, though she longs for “a good pal to be in the world with.”)
By all measures, Ms. Waters should be relaxing at this point in her life. She is 63. She has held court with princes and presidents. A year ago, with some prodding from her partners at the restaurant, she pulled back from the daily work at Chez Panisse. Now she is trying to become better at leveraging her role as the high priestess of the local, sustainable food revolution.
Although she is enthusiastically mocked in some circles for the impossible goals she articulates in a wispy cadence, chefs who once sniffed that her methods were more about shopping than cooking now agree that the heart of great food is selecting the best ingredients.”
Lunch with Alice Waters: Food Revolutionary
Interested readers can access Kim Severson’s entire New York Times article here.
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