The Suitcase Lady


November 21, 2017, 8:01 pm

The one thing on every American’s mind this week is food. Our thoughts will range from how to shop for it, prepare it, serve it, eat it and recover from the abundance of it.

So it seems fitting to talk about “the woman who changed the way America eats”. This honor goes to Alice Waters whose Berkeley, California restaurant, Chez Panisse, is the temple of the fresh, local and slow food movement.

In her new book, Coming to My Senses -The Making of a Counterculture Cook, Alice Waters traces her path from childhood to the night Chez Panisse opens.

Growing up in a Northern New Jersey suburb in the 50’s, Alice ate what all of us of her age were eating then, things like fish sticks, iceberg lettuce, bottled dressing and Campbell’s Soup. But her mother, and mine as well, knew how to cook and made many meals from fresh whole foods before the market of that name was invented.

Alice attended high school in Indiana and she partied hard. The partying continued when she and a friend went to the University of California in Santa Barbara where she was kicked out of her sorority for low morals. She then switched to U.C. Berkeley.

The free speech movement was in full swing, and she found herself in the right place at the right time. Berkeley was filled with painters, filmmakers, printmakers, musicians and those who we now call “foodies”. Attending Berkeley plus a break year spent wandering in Paris and France sealed her fate as a food sensualist.

However, her first job out of college was as a preschool Montessori teacher in Berkeley. Children were not her calling and she was fired, not for biting a mean child (which she did) but for wearing see-through blouses.

She subsequently started gathering up all her creative college friends and fielding the preposterous notion of starting a restaurant that would feature fresh, local foods simply prepared and served in a casual but ambient setting.

Chez Panisse was born in 1971. No one involved had ever attended a culinary school or taken restaurant management courses. The restaurant had about a minus zero chance of surviving. But Chez Panisse is now celebrating its 46th year and everyone knows what “farm to table” means.

Here is an excerpt from Alice Waters’ new book:

“This is my favorite recipe: ‘Go get some perfectly ripe figs in August, put them on a plate  and eat them’. No, my favorite recipe is: ‘Cut some mint from the garden, boil water and pour it over the mint. Wait. And then drink. That’s my favorite recipe.’ ”

Alice Waters

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