Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution
When Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse thirty-five years ago, it was a slapdash, make-it-up-as-we-go-along little hangout for her and her Berkeley friends. In many ways it still is just that, but along the way Alice has transformed the way many Americans eat and the way they think about food. She is the most famous person in the food world, and Chez Panisse is considered by Gourmet magazine to be the best restaurant in America.
How Alice and Chez Panisse got from there to here is a story of adventure, misadventure, unintended consequences, steel will, pure chance, and utterly unrealistic visions. The characters who thread through its history range from hedonists to Machiavellian careerists, from the crazy to the coolly rationalist; nearly all have been driven by unquenchable passion. The road Alice Waters has traveled has been pot-holed, booby-trapped, cliff-hanging, devil-daring, sometimes not quite a road at all.
Yet here she is, at the head of a revolution still unfolding. Her insistence on the freshest ingredients, used only at the peak of their season, nearly always grown locally and organically, is now a ruling principle in the best American restaurants and for many home cooks. Her conception of a moral community based on good food and good will has helped to spawn a new generation of artisans, farmers, and restaurateurs. Her “Edible Schoolyard” project, combining gardening, cooking, and community building, all integrated with a broad curriculum, is a model for a whole new way of feeding children in school--thereby combating the obesity and diabetes crises, teaching children the deep values of cooperation and trust, and supporting a vast expansion of organic farming.
As well known as she may be, the complex personal character of Alice Waters is hardly known at all. Thomas McNamee was selected by Alice to document her story, and was given complete authorial freedom, exclusive access to the Chez Panisse archives and the people in Alice’s life, and many hours of searching, candid interviws with Alice herself. As her story unfolds over the decades, we learn of her evolving values and how they have found expression in the traditions of Chez Panisse. The reader will come to know her passionate loves, her marriage, her divorce, the birth of her daughter Fanny, her failures, her critics, her dreams, and the complexly interwoven, ever-changing Chez Panisse “family,” with their fierce devotion to each other, to their work, and to Alice.