Alice Waters’ passion for food first sparked during the study abroad program she attended in France as a college student at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. The French culture surrounding food and fresh ingredients changed Waters’ perspective for the rest of her life. She had never experienced the rich, full body of fresh milk or the succulent, sweet, salty flavor of mussels scraped from a rocky outcrop only minutes before reaching her plate. Upon her return to Berkeley, Waters was determined to bring this culture back to America with her. In 1971, she opened Chez Panisse, and her food revolution began.
Waters’ philosophy on food is simple. Superb ingredients will create superbly delicious meals. The menu at Chez Panisse is built on fresh ingredients found in the local area. “I was looking for taste and flavor, and ended up at the doorstep of local, organic farmers,” she said in an interview with NPR. Even after over 40 years of operation, some of the original producers are still supplying the kitchen at Chez Panisse with chantenay carrots and fresh Muscovy ducks. Waters believes that strong, personal relationships with the farmers are key to the success of her restaurant, and it shows. Thirty years after the doors opened, Chez Panisse was awarded “Best Restaurant in America” by Gourmet magazine.
Waters wanted to extend her influence to the children in the Berkeley area. In 1996, she helped create the Edible Schoolyard project at Martin Luther King, Jr Middle School. The project offers a one-acre garden plot and teaching kitchen to the students at the school. Waters’ goal was to attract young individuals with the flavor and fun of growing and cooking. As she told NPR, “We have to create a circumstance that is really irresistible, and, fortunately, nature is irresistible.” Waters believes that the involvement of youth in programs like the Edible Schoolyard can catalyze a shift in the American population’s perspective to value the land and the abundance of fresh food we receive from it.
Waters has written 12 books outlining recipes to showcase the robust flavor of local ingredients, including The Art of Simple Cooking, which is a staple in any kitchen that uses fresh, farm-raised foods. Additionally, Waters is the vice president of Slow Food International and received the Organic Pioneer Award from the Rodale Institute this fall. Waters continues to inspire, educate, and enamor people with the power of wholesome, artisan food. She has changed the face of eating not only in Berkeley but all over the globe.