Alice Waters speaks the same way she cooks, the same way she eats — with intention. Like the ingredients she selects to prepare beautiful meals, her words are thoughtful and chosen with care. Waters began our conversation with mention of this year’s National Heirloom Exposition, describing the event with the kind of gusto most people reserve for rock concerts rather than produce. Because for Alice Waters, food is more than just something to eat, it’s a way of life.
All pioneers must begin their journey somewhere, and Waters cites the Free Speech Movement — and her participation in it as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley — as the seed from which all of her life’s work has sprung. Inspired by the political action she experienced on campus, Waters became involved in Robert Scheer’s congressional campaign. Though the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, it was this disappointment that led Waters to funnel her frustration into a new, culinary venture — a little place known as Chez Panisse. And it was here that Waters cultivated a new kind of politics, “Slow Food Politics.” This simple belief in responsible, sustainable eating — or, “eating with intention,” as she puts it — has defined Waters’ career for more than 40 years. Her holistic approach to food carries forth the desire for a future that is hearty, wholesome and, above all, delicious.
The Daily Californian: You are known as one of the most influential chefs in America, but which chefs have most influenced your own style?
Alice Waters: I was very lucky — I read Elizabeth David and Richard Olney. They talked about ingredients; they were uncompromising.
DC: What one ingredient could you not live without?
AW: Garlic. Maybe olive oil.
DC: Can you, in a single word, describe your personal cooking philosophy?
AW:Provenance. It’s all about provenance; I want to know where everything comes from.
DC: What is it about Berkeley that led you to choose this community as the one in which to establish your restaurant?
AW: I didn’t want to live anywhere else. I felt that anything I did here would be supported — that if I opened a good place, people would come. It was very empowering.
DC: Chez Panisse is known for delicious yet simple dishes. What recipes can you recommend that any college student can prepare, even in the most humble of kitchens?
AW: When my daughter started at Yale, there was nothing to eat and it drove me crazy. The first thing I got her was a toaster and then a rice cooker. You can always make garlic toast with tomato and salt. And you should learn how to make a vinaigrette.
DC: What’s your favorite place to grab a quick bite in Berkeley?
AW: I’ll get a bowl of soba noodles at Ippuku, up by the university. They care a whole lot about sourcing. Most of the time, though, I’ll think about (eating out) and then end up going home and making a salad taco.
Alice Waters’ Salad Taco Recipe:
This salad taco is a favorite lunchtime fix for Waters and is easy enough for anyone to make:
1. Start by making a chop salad with whatever you have (lettuce, tomatoes, sometimes chopped radishes or fennel).
2. Mix with some vinegar, oil, and a bit of salt. Maybe some coriander.
3. Take an organic tortilla and put it on the fire of the stove for a few seconds until the edges begin to brown
4. Shred some organic soft cheese (like a Monterey Jack, or fresh Mexican cheese) and sprinkle it on the tortilla.
5. Put the tortilla in the broiler until the cheese just melts, then take it out, throw the salad on top and eat it right away.