September 27, 2007

TABLE CONVERSATIONS: ALICE WATERS

I was in the Wild Oats market on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa the other day with a colleague checking out a few items at the store.

I was explaining to my friend the buzzwords we saw attached to much of the food on shelves: biodiverse wine, organic meats and cheeses, locally grown produce, sustainable farming.

But we noticed that a lot of the food – even at this place which is heralded as a bastion of healthier eating – still wasn’t very local.

The capper was that they had a freezer box near the checkout touting all-natural cocktail ice cubes.

From Maine.

I thought, “This would be enough to give Alice Waters an anyeurism.”

Yesterday, I had the thrill of speaking with Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., for a Table Convesations podcast. Since her restaurant opened in 1972, Waters has been credited with revolutionizing American cooking during the past three decades. with her emphasis on using local ingredients grown seasonally by farmers who are committed to sustainable, organic agriculture.

Alice Waters

The New York Times once said about her, “More than any other single figure, she was instrumental in developing New American Cuisine — an adventurous, frequently improvisational use of the finest American ingredients, and a simple and straightforward approach to their preparation.”

Waters was a delightful conversationalist during our interview. When I first called, I made sure she knew I would be recording our chat for a podcast.

"Well," she said, with a slight hesitation that made me think she might back out. "I guess I better be articulate."

Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food; Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution'Her ninth cookbook, ''The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes From a Delicious Revolution'' is being published on Oct. 2 by Clarkson Potter. The book, which includes more than 200 recipes, has been described as a primer for anyone who is interested in making delicious food.

My other Alice Waters anecdote:

I was in Berkeley at a multimedia fellowship a few years back, about a week after I started covering the food beat full-time. Another fellow who knew I was a food writer bragged he was going to Chez Panisse that night with a friend to meet Alice Waters. I, of course, had no idea what a Chez Panisse was or why it was important, much less who Alice Waters was. He was sufficiently unimpressed with me for the rest of the fellowship. I don't know that I blame him. I couldn't have been a bigger food noob.

At that moment, I was maybe – maybe – about six blocks from the restaurant.

In the years since, I’ve absorbed just about everything I could find out about her, including watching the Sundance channel episode of "Iconoclasts" that showcased her friendship with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

I'll always regret not being able to eat her food.

To hear the podcast, click here.

* Cross-posted at The Stew.

Posted by Jeff at September 27, 2007 09:02 AM | TrackBack
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