Founder of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters brings her food revolution to Grass Valley
Special to Prospector
“We need to eat with intention. Every bite,” said Alice Waters.
It’s a message that remains strong more than four decades after the author, activist and mother of the slow food movement felt empowered to first open her Berkeley fixed menu restaurant, Chez Panisse, in 1971 at the age of 27.
“I just like to cook. I guess I was a revolutionary,” said Waters, remembering those early years heavily influenced by 1960s counterculture, the antiwar movement and a suburban New Jersey childhood eating from her father’s Victory Garden.
Her memoir and most personal writing to date, “Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook” hit bookstore shelves on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Book reviews have appeared in rapid fire by the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.
On Friday, Waters will visit Grass Valley for the first time to talk about her life’s work fighting to preserve a basic and profound right — the act of eating good food.
In a busy world, Waters message carries more weight than ever — know your farmer and know where your food comes from.
“Nothing is more important than that. Fortunately it’s a very nourishing endeavor. It’s not hard and it brings so much pleasure,” said Waters.
Waters will sign her new book at a meet and greet at The Center for the Arts, Off Center Stage from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Friday.
World-renown California winemakers Joel Peterson “the Godfather of Zin” (Ravenswood), Bill Easton (Terre Rouge and Easton Wines) and Randle Johnson (Artezin) will pour Zinfandel while former Chez Panisse Chef and cookbook collaborator Alan Tangren serves local food appetizers.
Beginning at 8 p.m., Beth Ruyak, host of Capitol Public Radio’s “Insight” will conduct a live interview in the Main Stage Theatre called, “In Conversation with Alice Waters.”
A writing life
Waters is the author of more than 15 books, including New York Times bestsellers, “The Art of Simple Food” I & II and “The Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea.”
Yet she struggled to find her voice for her memoir, the most personal writing to date. For the first time, Waters departed from the “We” voice customary of her restaurant’s cookbooks and chose the brave pronoun, “I.”
She approached the book similar to the way she writes recipes, collaboratively, and by talking it through and making notes.
“I don’t think of my dish and how to do it. I’m looking for what strikes me — a composite,” she said.
With the help of her two good friends, Bob Carrau and Cristina Mueller, both writers, Waters explored her past. Like a therapy session, her friends asked questions and probed deeper. Memories surfaced. Waters re-discovered herself.
The book traces her years backpacking in Europe where she fell in love with French cooking.
“I was lucky that I went to France at that time. This is a slow food country. People eat meals together,” said Waters.
In the pages of her book, she recounts stories of passionate love affairs, of dabbling with psychedelic drugs, days as a young activist cooking for Bay Area antiwar organizers and finally brings to life the colorful, chaotic opening night of her French restaurant.
A delicious revolution
For over four decades, Waters has championed for local sustainable agriculture and shows no signs of slowing down. Every year, she pauses to reflect on her path, and every year she realizes the journey is still hers. She’s not ready to retire.
“Yes, this is the work I want to do. It’s very vital. I find it endlessly interesting,” she said.
In 1995 she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project, advocating for a free school lunch for all children and a sustainable food curriculum in every public school.
She remains committed to this cause and has not given up hope that communities can prevail in the face of powerful corporate agriculture and a fast food nation. In Waters view, connecting schools with local farmers can change the world.
“This is about social justice. This is about bringing children to the table and feeding them,” said Waters.
Chez Panisse serves as a “think tank” for Waters bigger philanthropic endeavors for young people. The way the restaurant buys food from local farms, serves as a model for the Edible Schoolyard Project, says Waters, a mother of one who has written two children’s books.
“I can’t think of a better way to support rural development than to buy from farmers out in the country who farm sustainably,” she said.
Waters sees a time when school lunches are treated with the same respect as physical education and woven into the daily curriculum with student run gardens and cafeterias and Spanish lessons.
Political support will be required to make her vision a reality and Waters is poised to make her voice heard.
Since 2002, Waters has been Vice President of Slow Food International. She has received a long list of national and international accolades including the Harvard Medical School’s Global Environmental Citizen Award and her induction into the French Legion of Honor.
In 2015, President Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal.
Yet her name does not appear plastered on any bottles of sauce or convenience foods at the supermarket. She refuses to sell out.
At 73, Waters has lived long enough to see the world change.
Born in 1944, she can remember a slower time, when families sat down at the dinner table together, before the bombardment of global information and the distraction of technology. Now more than ever, food choices are statements of humanity.
“We don’t realize we are buying values. It’s such a moral issue. This is a very delicious revolution,” said Waters.
Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at email@example.com or 530-913-3067.
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