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About Alice

(article, Kim Carlson)

The doyenne of American cookery — especially American cookery with an unfussy, locally grown angle — Alice Waters is well known for her energetic efforts in foods. She founded Chez Panisse, one of the finest restaurants in the country. She's fostered support for local growers and, by extension, the local-food movement, with her insistence on serving food grown in the Bay Area at her Berkeley restaurant. And she's spearheaded the national effort to reform school lunches with her Edible Schoolyard project.

[%image alice float=right caption="Alice Waters"]

Now she has an authorized biography. [%amazonProductLink asin=1594201153 "Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution"] has just been released and was recently featured on NPR. From this one link, you can read an excerpt, find a recipe, listen to an interview with Waters and her biographer, Thomas McNamee, or read an abridged report:

bq. Looking back, Waters would say it all began for her with a bowl of café au lait. As a student on a sojourn to Paris during the 1960s, Waters had never sipped anything so good. Soon, trips to the French countryside introduced her to the power and pleasure of local foods: mussels just off the boat, freshly pressed virgin olive oil.

Need more Alice? There's plenty to go around. To know more about her lunch program, read her Slow Foods, Slow Schools manifesto:

bq.  I believe public education must help restore the daily ritual of the table in all our childrens' lives. Public education has the required democratic reach. And it desperately needs a curriculum that offers alternatives to the fast-food messages that saturate our contemporary culture. 

Waters is having some success with this program, but it's, well, slower than she might like. 


To get a British perspective on Waters' restaurant and lunch program, read this feature/interview, which was published in the Observer:

bq. It seems a little unfair to mention Jamie Oliver right now, the 20-something kid who managed to get a national government to cough up millions to do exactly what Alice — a veteran of so many battles — is having great difficulty getting a single school district to do.

To read one food icon talking about another food icon, there's a Ruth Reichl essay about Waters that accompanied a PBS television show:

bq. Every great cook secretly believes in the power of food. Alice Waters just believes this more than anybody else. She is certain that we are what we eat, and she has made it her mission in life to make sure that people eat beautifully. Waters is creating a food revolution, even if she has to do it one meal at a time.

For a less "authorized" view of the early days at Chez Panisse, read an excerpt of David Kamp’s The United States of Arugula that appeared in Vanity Fair last fall and lays bare many of the early highs and lows of Alice's restaurant:

bq. No restaurant in America has inspired, yea invited, more cultish worship and precious food-crit overdrive. Chez Panisse is the ultimate manifestation of the baby boomers' contribution to the American food revolution, tracing its bloodlines directly to the Free Speech Movement, which rocked the University of California's Berkeley campus in late 1964.

Finally, Adam Roberts, of the blog The Amateur Gourmet, posted a rather sweet account of his dinner at Chez Panisse recently, which sums things up nicely:

bq. This restaurant doesn't care about timeliness, it cares about timelessness. It's here for pleasure, for comfort, for joy. It's the #2 restaurant in America not because the food is the most refined, not because it's daring or wildly inventive, but because it has heart. It has soul. It feeds you and it loves you and it sends you out happy to be alive . . . All I need is a simple dinner made with love. If that's what you require, look no further than Chez Panisse.

Editorial addendum: I recommend a new and exceptionally good feature about Alice Waters that was published in the Guardian the same day this item appeared._

alice, l