Tryn's Reviews > Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee
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's review
Mar 30, 10

bookshelves: food, biography

Okay, I did not read this biography beginning to end. I browsed, and read big chunks of it. But I got enough from the content to know that Alice Waters is incredibly cool.

Even if you never pick up this book, you need to know a little about Alice. In 1971, when she was just 27, she opened a restaurant in Berkely, California, because she wanted to create a place where food would be prepared with attention to every detail, from the freshest, seasonal, local, usually organic ingredients. At the time even the best restaurants in the U.S. used prepared, canned, or frozen foods. She wanted a place where friends could gather, talk, laugh, and eat simple, delicious, fresh food. Even though Alice did not go to cooking school or receive any formal training other than one summer making crab salad sandwiches in a department store café, and even though she claims to have little business sense and often operated her restaurant in the red during the first years of its existence, now 40 years after her restaurant opened, Alice Waters is one of the most admired and successful figures among foodies.

Alice fell in love with all things French when she studied abroad in college. She came home wanting to wear French clothes and eat French food. She wanted to live the kind of life where all the details matter and are well thought-out. Her restaurant dinning room has eclectic chairs from estate sales, mix-matched but beautiful china and flatware, and large flower arrangements full of whatever is happening in nature at the time, even apple tree boughs with the apples still on them.

Her gifts are her acute senses, her impeccable taste memory, her attention to detail, her welcoming spirit, her soulful connection to nature, and her intense sociability. Alice has a strong sense of purpose and mission, but also amazing flexibility. And so in starting a restaurant, this woman somehow started a food revolution. Her restaurant has repeatedly been named the best in the United Stakes. She is sought after as a speaker. She is held up as an icon for food lovers and gourmets. She is the hero of organic farmers and farmer’s market purveyors and food journalists. Her crusade is to change school lunch programs to include more fresh, natural, seasonal ingredients. She wants children to learn to grow and prepare their own food and feel connected to the earth, to recognize a stewardship over it. Her audacious motto is “How we eat can change the world.” Alice Waters is an idealist and I adore idealists.

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