A Master Culinary Curator & Food Provocateur
Who would have thought that in 1971 it was both creative ingenuity and a bit of reverse psychology that inspired Alice Waters to open her tiny unknown restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. Through her openheartedness in feeding for free her closest friends because she simply loved to cook and dreamed of having a place to nourish them, an empire and national movement was born. Little did she know that in feeding those she cherished and possessing the dream to “build it and they will come” mentality, would actually work out so brilliantly. And gather together to dine they all certainly did – who in their right mind would’ve missed a meal at Alice’s table even back then? She had a hunch that one day all her friends (and their friends) would not only come to gather around to eat at the common tables, but they would finally start paying her back for all the delicious meals….and so they came and continued to come, to cherish and linger over her curated plated meals.
The art of giving encompasses many areas, and it is an outgoing, overflowing way of life and for Alice, it was her personal passion and genuine trait for giving to others that started her path to success. She had a knack for every little detail and never spared anything in the kitchen, not even a carrot top. Having traveled to France to study abroad in the 60’s (and multiple times thereafter), she learned the panache of what makes a bistro great, from seeking out artisans in their culinary fields of expertise to sourcing perfect produce. Alice would wander through the open-air markets, having lived at the end of one, and absorbed everything through osmosis like a perfectly cultivated mushroom ready to soak up wine in a pot. She returned home filled with enthusiasm and the priceless curated experience to recreate the simple, wholesome farm-to-table food that has made her now-iconic culinary dwelling a masterpiece cornucopia. At first it was pro-bono in the kitchen-to-table concept, as the restaurant and its creator was feeling the impact of just how huge of an endeavor it was in undertaking the dream of a little french-style bistro in California. But Alice’s never-give-up-attitude never settled, nor did her desire ever give in to her own demands to have the very best. Without the exquisite fresh produce that existed in Europe which Alice had become accustomed to, she took it upon herself and through a collaborative effort began reaching out far and wide throughout the local region and began building an artisan network of local farmers, producers and connoisseurs who could bring to her restaurant’s tables all their culinary works of art. Alice always followed her instinct and her heart, deeply believing and practicing in what she preached, saying “I feel it is an obligation to help people understand the relation of food to agriculture and the relationship of food to culture”. She certainly is one of the most public supporters of the organic food movement, as we know it today.
As an avid foodie and lover of all-things-authentic, I had to go see one of the most influential figures in food. I had to experience “The Mother of American Food”, so in the mid-90’s I booked our first table reservation at Chez Panisse. I must admit, living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area for 8-years in my travel career, dished up the opportunity to try so many fantastic restaurants. Not to mention the food-truck scene took off with blazing speed in this area way before it hit the road elsewhere. There is certainly no lack of fine dining nor getting-down-with the local foodies in this area of the United States. I consider myself fortunate to have dined at Alice’s table on a few special celebratory-occasions with my husband at charming Chez Panisse. I admire so many things about her, but I can most personally relate to her free-spirit, drive for perfection and intense curiosity to always taste her ways through her travels. She spent time traveling in London where she was first trained at a Montessori school learning the methods and principles of hands-on activities for children which prompted her to create a program of “edible education” and build her Edible Schoolyard, which engages children through the entire evolution of fresh food and preparation of it. She ventured into Turkey, where she encountered a humble local child who shared tea and a small piece of cheese, even though he had very little to share. Just this small personal interaction influenced and touched her immensely. Personally knowing that such small acts of kindness and paying it forward can make such a difference in a person’s life, Alice practiced this exact approach to hospitality and generosity, for these are the most important seeds one should take the time to sow.
A revolutionary who became a culinary revolution, Alice has taken her philosophy for knowing that “once people get connected to real food, they never change back”. I too, as a professional Travel-crafter, believe that we have a purpose and a responsibility to curate the most authentic and locally sourced journey experiences, giving everyone the opportunity to taste REAL food, see where its grown, meet the local farmers and people who are responsible for bringing the farm to the table, and actually become a part of the preparation of a beautiful meal. If you’d like a curated memorable food and wine journey into Provence to taste the beautiful vintages of Domaine Tempier vineyard, a place filled with people that significantly influenced Waters’ cooking and inspired many of her menus, enlist my Travelcrafting passion. Of course there’s always the option for a quick escape to Berkeley too, for that coveted table at Chez Panisse for a memorable meal experience!
My deepest gratitude exists for provoking and educating us in our culinary lifestyles, Alice! I too, through following your words of wisdom, have learned that food is a way of life, and not just something we eat. We give of ourselves when we give gifts of the heart, love, kindness, joy, understanding, sympathy, tolerance, forgiveness and especially a home-cooked meal. We give of ourselves when we share our dreams, purposes, ideals, principles, inventions; we give of ourselves when we give the gift of time, the gift of words, encouragement, inspiration and guidance. As Emerson once said, “the only true gift is a portion of thyself”, of which you dear Alice, have certainly given your entire self unto the foodie-world and have changed our communities forever. Because of you, small local community farmers have sprouted up not only success, but hope for a future; it’s because of you children have taken up forks and spoons with a passion for learning a culinary trade; it’s because of you someone with a less fortunate background can become a master of chefs in their own field through the same dedication and entrepreneurship-spirit you began with. For “it’s around the table and in the preparation of food that we learn about ourselves and about the world”, so perfectly lived and practiced by Alice.
We “Salute to your Health” dearest Alice, for you are truly a Master Culinary Curator and Food Provocateur leading by example, for not only today but for many more generations to come!
To be further inspired, enter into Alice’s domaine