Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alice Waters: Mother of American Food

Long before “organic” or “locally grown” became part of the vernacular, there was Alice Waters. Forty years ago she was at the forefront of the movement which now informs the decisions many of us make about what we eat.
Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in a house in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971. Credit: Wikipedia

Waters’ food awakening came while in college, when she left the University of California, Berkeley, for a semester to study abroad in Paris. She shopped for local produce and prepared fresh foods simply to enhance the experience of the table. She brought this style of food preparation back to Berkeley, where she popularized the concept of market-fresh cooking with the local products available to her in Northern California.

Alice Louise Waters (born in 1944) is the owner of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, California, restaurant which she has owned and operated since 1971. It is famous for its organic, locally-grown ingredients and for pioneering California cuisine. It has consistently ranked among the World's 50 Best Restaurants.

Alice Waters today. Credit: Chez Panisse. (The thing that strikes me about this picture. She was born in 1944, making her 68 years old. She doesn't look a day over 40. Now if that's not a recommendation for healthy eating I don't know what is!)

Waters has been cited as one of the most influential figures in food in the past 50 years, and has been called the mother of American food. She is currently one of the most visible supporters of the organic food movement and a proponent of organics for over 40 years. Waters believes that eating organic foods, free from herbicides and pesticides, is essential for both taste and the health of the environment and local communities.

She maintains a culinary philosophy that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. She is a passionate advocate for a food economy that is “good, clean, and fair.” Over the course of nearly forty years, Chez Panisse has helped create a community of scores of local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures the restaurant a steady supply of fresh and pure ingredients.

In addition to her restaurant, Waters has authored several books on food and cooking, including Chez Panisse Cooking (with Paul Bertolli) and The Art of Simple Food. She is one of the most well-known food activists in the United States and around the world.

It was noted by Garrison Keller today during his “The Writer’s Almanac” broadcast on National Public Radio that a meal at Chez Panisse in 1971 cost $3.90; today a similar meal costs about $100.

Out of curiosity, I went to the Chez Panisse web page and found this week's menu. Oh my, these foods sound so delicious, but the prices! No one ever said organic was cheap.

Chez Panisse
Downstairs Dinner menus for the week of August 27-September 1, 2012

Monday, August 27 $65
Green bean and tomato salad with anchovies and fresh coriander seeds
Saumon au gros sel: King salmon baked in rock salt with salsa verde,
eggplant caponata, and fresh cranberry beans
Plum gelée with lemon verbena parfait

Tuesday, August 28 $250 Celebrating 41 Years of Chez Panisse
Benefit for the Edible Schoolyard Project featuring Kermit Lynch wines
Apéritif Alice
Salade de tomates à la niçoise
Niçoise style summer tomato salad with black olives
Soupe de poisons
Fish and shellfish soup with garlic and tomatoes with wild fennel
Les grillades de pigeons, gratin dauphinois, et salade de mesclun
Paine Farm squab over vine cuttings with potato gratin and mesclun
Trois glaces de fruits dété
White peach sherbet, plum sherbet, and mulberry ice cream
peach sherbet, plum sherbet, and mulberry ice cream

Wednesday, August 29 $85
Cucumber, green bean and pickled chanterelle salad with mint and crème fraîche
Petrale sole à la marinière
Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork loin with sage and tomato sauce, fresh shell beans,
 grilled peppers, and zucchini gratin
Summer berry meringue with Meyer lemon gelato

Thursday, August 30 $85
Summer squash tart with pancetta and wild rocket salad
Northern halibut bourride with chanterelles and thyme
Grilled Salmon Creek Ranch duck breast with red wine sauce, roasted figs,
and braised Caroselli cucumbers
Raspberry soufflé

Friday, August 31 $100
An apéritif
Grilled Monterey Bay squid and Rossa di Milano onions with Meyer lemon salsa
Friture of squash and squash blossoms with tomato coulis
Bolinas grass-fed beef tenderloin à la ficelle with sauce piquante,
Annabelles fresh flageolets, and wild mushrooms
Gâteau glacé with nectarine, raspberry,
 and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ice creams

Saturday, September 1 $100
An apéritif
Local albacore tuna and tomato salad with green olive salsa and aïoli
Fresh shell bean and shallot soup with chanterelle mushrooms and rosemary
Grilled Watson Ranch lamb with garlic and anchovy sauce, eggplant confit,
fingerling potatoes cooked in the coals, and mesclun
Black Mission fig feuilleté with anise ice cream

If I'm in Berkeley, perhaps I'll go by Chez Panisse. Lunch, maybe?


  1. Bravo for this lady. True, she looks g o o d !
    I´m all in favor for her food philosophy, only I have to leave the fish ( except white fish ) and the meat off, for my special quirky reasons.
    Thank you for your yet another interesting post!

    1. As I understand it, Waters also is an activist for educating the populace to change the way they eat. If only people would listen and stop eating preprepared, salty, high fat foods. She was the motivating force behind Michele Obama's White House garden for children. She had been trying to get that program going since 1992 and was finally successful. Hoorah for her! Teach children early how to eat.

  2. Such healthy,natural food.I also eat very little meat maybe twice a year chicken.I found duck was too fatty/greasy.
    I do eat fish,and a fresh fruit salad every day.

    Would join you for lunch anyday for such great food. Ida

    1. I must say that I enjoy meat, but certainly not every day. I know by previous comments that you are a very healthy eater. Perhaps one day I'll be able to leave off the mostly chicken (and fish occasionally) that I eat, but for now I feel I need the protein.

      As I rethink what I said in the post about the expense of the dinners, it's actually in line for what one pays at any very nice restaurant for a special meal. And at least you would know what you were getting at Chez Panisse! I would love to meet you there for lunch!

  3. One of my favorite places to go in the early 70's was Berkeley. I was so excited when her cookbooks came out so I could do her recipes for less. $4 for a poor student was a once a year splurge. (Tuition for Graduate School was less than $70 per semester at a state college at that time.)
    I'm surprised at how similar our taste in cookbooks is!
    I have tried numerous times to cut red meat out of my diet, but always just end up sick and/or so tired I can't even function. My daughter is just the same. When she would call me from college telling me that she was so tired so wanted me to come down and take care of her, I would tell her to go eat a steak and call me tomorrow. She was always OK the next day. We love our iced tea, but the caffeine doesn't revive us as well as red meat.

    1. How lucky you are to have eaten at her restaurant. Red meat is definitely good for the iron and energy!

  4. Very interesting as well as educational for me. If I should be with you in Berkeley, and would love to be, I will drop you off at the restaurant, take my money and head for the plant sale down the street and pick up a salad at a fast food place on the way!!

    1. When are we leaving? I can be packed in about an hour!


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