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Style Icon: Alice Waters

by Amy Azzarito

Local, farm-to-table, nose-to-tail. It’s hard to believe that without the influence of individuals like Alice Waters, these are not words we would have used to describe American cooking. When Grace and I traveled around the country for the Design*Sponge at Home book tour, we were delighted by how many great restaurants there are around the country – from The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis to 5 & 10 in Athens, Georgia to Barbuzzo in Philly. This food awareness, an understanding of the importance of locally grown and organic is something that Alice Waters has been working to support for the last forty years.

For those who know about Alice Waters it’s not surprising learn that a semester abroad in France, helped shaped Alice’s attitude about food. But it was another city that helped define the way she would communicate about food – London – where Alice trained at a Montessori school. The Montessori method emphasizes practical and hands-on activities for children. The ideas are evident in Alice’s idea of an “edible education” and in her Edible Schoolyard, which encourages children to participate in the process growing, preparing, serving and eating their food.   –Amy Azzarito

Alice Waters co-founded Chez Panisse in 1971. After her experience eating in France, not only did she miss mornings of hot baguettes served with apricot jams, and cafe au laits served in bowls, but she had also become completely captivated with the French aesthetic – of paying attention to every little detail. She was determined to bring that attention to detail to Chez Panisse. Her biggest decision was that the dinner menu would offer no choices. The menu would be new every night but it would be set – like going to someone’s house for a dinner party. In the early days of Chez Panisse, sourcing ingredients was an ever-present problem. Not only did they haunt supermarkets of Chinatown and the specialty food shops in Berkeley, but they also developed a hunter-gather culture – literally gathering watercress from streams, taking herbs from the gardens of friends and picking wild fennel by the roadside. Alice believed in the Montessori principle of learning while doing and brought that philosophy into the restaurant. No job was too menial – cooks washed their own dishes. And everyone, even the dishwashers, were expected to love food. Alice worked nearly every single day. Occasionally overworking herself to the point that her nervous system would shut down and she would become temporarily blinded.
Image above: 1. om beaker glass teapot $17.95 | 2. heart shaped pu-erh tea $5 | 3. tapered rolling pin $14.95 | 4. porcelain mortar and pestle $30 | 5. cafe bowl, heath chez panisse line $36 | 6. DeWit Dutch trowel $28 | 7. Mar Y Sol caracas basket tote $94 | 8. scissors $12 | 9. oak and jute string stand $38

The only break in the frenetic pace that she set for herself was when her daughter Fanny was born. Fanny was the inspiration for Edible Schoolyard, a program founded by Alice as a way to revamp the way that children in American eat. And when Fanny went to Yale, Alice helped start the Yale Sustainable Food Project. And back at Chez Panisse, the search for the best ingredients has lead to a long-standing cooperation between local chefs and small-scale growers. Isn’t it inspiring that a passion for baguettes in the morning, could lead to changing the face of the way the country eats? Thank you, Alice Waters!

(For more about Alice Waters, check out Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas NcNamee. I found it hugely fascinating and inspiring.)
Image above: 1. cutting fruit $25 | 2. Hudson Valley Seeds $15 | 3. French grocery bag $12 | 4. woven vine basket $58 | 5. teak dessert set $22 | 6. live edge cutting board $48 | 7. essentials honey pot $14.95 | 8. jute wrapped garden scissors $34

Image above, from left: garden allotment kit $29.95 and garden in koop salad kit $12.95

Image above: 1. stoneware compost pail $38 | 2. opinel kitchen set $49 | 3. hot-dipped steel watering can $48 | 4. pimary board group $15 ea | 5. myrtlewood garden trug $118 | 6. santa clara del cobre copper tray $125 | 7. pair of ceramic candlestick holders $75

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