By Samuel Ford Coronado
Delicious. Local. Fresh. The principles of Alice Waters’s food philosophy aren’t exactly complex- especially given that modern foodies have lived with them for years. But in 1971, when Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, such thinking seemed revolutionary.
Waters’ ‘edible education’, as she describes it, began while the future restaurateur was a college student studying abroad in France. Waters, 19 at the time, lived at the bottom of a market street. Local produce and ingredients were abundant and, to her standards, tastier than the mass-manufactured food gaining traction in 1960s California. After she graduated from Berkeley and was fired from her teaching job, she set out to open her own restaurant- an establishment where the quality of ingredients would match those of the French kitchens she frequented.
Although the first several years were financially rocky, Chez Panisse would become an undeniable success. Its five-course, fix-priced menu changes daily, as it has since 1971. Locally-sourced ingredients and dishes, made available by strong relationships with area growers, now draw visitors from around the nation. And, perhaps the most powerful testament to the restaurant’s success, many of Waters’s pioneering habits are increasingly accepted in a growing number of America’s kitchens, both commercial and private.
These days Waters has focused her sights beyond the restaurant. She devotes much of her time to the Edible School Yard Project, an initiative that brings the farm-to-table movement to children in the Berkeley area. She admits that she still doesn’t get enough sleep, but for her family, community, and the nation-at-large, fresh food comes first.
Illustration by Molly Ford Coronado.
This article was originally printed in August 2014 in Austere Awake.