Chef Alice Waters: Queen of the Garden

Chef Alice Waters is a counterculture culinary hero who has helped pioneer the farm to table movement in the United States at her iconic restaurant Chez Panisse.  At age four, she won a costume contest dressed as “Queen of the Garden” that featured produce from her parents’ Victory Garden.  This win was just a mere glimpse into her  future as an award winning chef, cookbook author, philanthropist, activist and advocate for sustainability and freshly grown produce.

Recently, Chef Alice Waters graciously greeted me at her Chez Panisse office in Berkeley.  A lovely glass teapot sat atop the small round table.  She had filled the teapot with her favorite recipe from the garden — fresh mint with hot water.  We sipped and chatted about her latest book Coming to My Senses: The Making of A Counterculture Cook.  She shared stories and lessons from her edible education including life changing moments in France when she discovered the incomparable tastes of the farmers markets, including les fraises des bois (strawberries from the woods).  Chef Alice Waters brought back the literal and figurative seeds that would become the harvest of a delicious revolution.  The actual seeds she planted in her backyard at Berkeley were the ingredients of a Mesclun Salad originating in Provence, France.  Almost every dish at Chez Panisse has a little salad.  Chef Waters explains, “A salad punctuates something that is rich and brings balance to the plate.”

Fresh salad ingredients on the kitchen countertop at Chez Panisse

Her favorite quotes include:  “The destiny of nations depends upon the manner in which they were fed” Brillat-Savarin and “We are what we eat.”  Chef Alice Waters explains that “When you eat fast food, you eat the values of the fast-food culture – that farming and cooking are drudgery.  Food is something precious and should not be wasted.” Her passion for sharing this lesson with others, especially children, became the impetus of The Edible Schoolyard Project.  Chef Waters emphasizes a key tenet to an edible education: “Don’t ever compromise the idea of sustainability.  That’s the bottomline.”

Here are three tips from Chef Alice Waters for the home chef:

  1. “It’s important to cook everyday.” Take the time to make point of sitting with friends or family and gather for a meal at the table.
  2. “Support the farmers’ markets.  It’s important to give the money directly to the people who grow the food.”
  3. Plant something whenever you can.  That’s so important for the planet.”

Here is a link to her latest book: Coming to My Senses: The Making of A Counterculture Cook

Do you have a garden? What do you like to plant?

Savor the day!


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