Alice Waters — chef, author, food activist
Buy tickets to attend “Alice Waters in Conversation” presented at the Center for the Arts and sponsored by BriarPatch – Friday, September 8.
Buy tickets online or at BriarPatch for the talk with Alice Waters, moderated by Capital Public Radio’s Beth Ruyak, and for the Wine Tasting preceding the talk.
A selection of recent tweets and interview excerpts with the founder and owner of Chez Panisse
When asked at a May/June 2017 Harvard Business Review interview, “How did you shift from restaurateur to activist?,” Alice Waters replied, “…I realized that the people who take care of the land are precious and need to be paid for the hard work they do. I didn’t think that was radical. I mean, I knew it was part of the counterculture to avoid industrial food and buy from farmers’ markets. But to me it seemed natural: We take care of the land; we celebrate the harvest; we use seasonal, local ingredients to cook together; and we sit down at the table to eat.”
Much of Alice’s teaching approach comes from her background in the Montessori method of education. When she was asked how Montessori affected the way she developed her restaurant, she replied that she encouraged her customers to come to the kitchen to see how food was cooked and to experience the food with all their senses.
She has recently expressed concern that “… a lot of big supermarkets have hijacked terms from this movement and confused people. Produce isn’t all seasonal or local. Meat isn’t all organic and grass-fed. So we still have to ask lots of questions: Where did the beef come from? Whose farm? Was it grass-fed all its life? I always go to the farmers’ market, so I’m connected with the people who grow the food. And if I see sunflowers in December, I don’t go back to that place, because I know they’re using a very industrial system.”
One successful technique that Alice Waters uses to get people on board for new ideas or initiatives is to feed them really great food. “When I was trying to lobby President Clinton, I always thought that if I could give him a perfect peach, he would understand everything.” When Alice was helping the American Academy in Rome, she switched the food away from U.S. cafeteria style and conversations between scholars immediately started increasing during meals.
However much success she’s enjoyed, Alice continues to receive criticism that the way she shops and cooks isn’t practical for families with low incomes. In the May/June 2017 Harvard Business Review interview, she responded to this criticism, “That’s a message coming from a fast-food industry that would prefer you buy packaged meals. It suggests that you don’t want the drudgery of cooking or going to a farmers’ market or having a garden. But when you buy direct and cook yourself, it cuts out the middleman: The money goes to somebody who is taking care of the land, and you’re giving your family more nutritious food. I understand that when people don’t know how to cook, it might be hard to imagine making three meals out of one expensive chicken. But it’s not difficult to learn, and it’s a pleasure. If we all learn basic cooking skills, we can make extremely affordable food.”
Alice is a fountain of innovative ideas, many thought up in response to interview questions. She was asked if she ever considered retiring, and she came up with an idea for an active retirement—to combine a tortillaria and a printing press in an intergenerational project. The tortillas could be wrapped in articles about edible education with the elders taking care of children, tending gardens, and patting tortillas “…to make ourselves useful.” It’s a wild idea, but in 1971, so was Chez Panisse.