This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Books for Great Cooks # 2

Alice Waters & Chez Panisse

by Thomas McNamee

A history of Chez Panisse, culinary mecca for many slow foods, seasonal and California cuisine afficionados, is chronicled in this book by Thomas McNamee. McNamee was given unprecedented access to the cast and crew of this famous bistro in Berkeley, California.

Alice Waters, the founder, part owner and sometime chef of Chez Panisse is the central character of the story, but the many other characters (and they are characters) who have come through her kitchen and dining room as well as her personal life are introduced.

Alice Waters introduced sustainable gardens in schools and museums; she even tried to convince the White House to create one. She was able to convince school districts to begin cooking according to the seasons, using organic foods cooked from scratch rather than the commonly used procedure of processed foods. Her efforts encouraged small local entreprenurial farmers and ranchers to begin producing foods organically for her restaurant's needs--fruit and veggies, seafood, beef, cheese, etc. The local availability of these foods created a demand which influenced communities far and wide to begin supporting farmer's markets which have proliferated across America.

Today Alice's ideas have spread across the country, even influencing my own school which has created a vital garden right across the street providing vegetables for our cafeteria salad bar in the fall and spring each year. Our school also offers fresh fruit to students daily, much of which is grown right here in Washington state.
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse is also terrific look inside the world of this famous restaurant, the people who have made it famous and the shaky financial history that has come close so many times to closing the doors of this treasure only to have been saved by one benefactor after another.
One of my dreams is to one day walk through the doors of Chez Panisse and spend an evening at a table enjoying not only a great meal, but to bask in the glow of history. Alice Water's influence has changed the way millions cook and the way they think about the food they are cooking--where it came from, who grew it, and how best to prepare it. Thank you, Alice!