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An Interview With Alice Waters

Oct 15, 2013

by Karen Brown

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Considered by many to be the most influential chef in the country, Alice Waters has been delighting America’s palate since 1971, the year she founded Chez Panisse.  As the founder of the Edible Schoolyard, she developed “edible education,” a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching and learning that integrates growing and cooking food with math, science, and language arts. Her latest book, The Art of Simple Food II,  is out this month.

Karen: Chez Panisse is one of the most iconic restaurants in America, but it began very humbly, didn’t it?

Alice: I just wanted a little restaurant for my friends. They were all coming over to my house every night for dinner. I loved to cook for them, but I couldn’t make a living. In fact, I was losing my shirt. So I thought, “I’ll just open a little restaurant and then my friends can pay a little something and I can get others to help me.” I wanted it to be like a simple French restaurant  — simple, really simple — not even a one star. And it wasn’t really even all about the food. What I really wanted was good conversation at the table, a place for plotting and planning.

Karen: You have only one menu every night.  When you began that was really quite unheard of, wasn’t it?

Alice: It was. I was a home cook and I just didn’t figure I could cook an á la carte menu. I thought if I only cooked one thing a night that would make it work financially, and we wouldn’t have to throw things away or ever use leftovers. We would just cook what we bought that day and eat everything that night. Little did I know that having a single menu would separate the restaurant in a big way, and make it a focus of attention.

chez-panisse-cookbook

AttysVintage

1982 First edition.

Karen: Unlike many chefs who have become well known, you never opened a chain of restaurants or sold frozen pizzas in the supermarket. And yet you are more influential than chefs who have. Why did you choose to keep your business small?

Alice: I can just barely handle the business I have! It’s a challenge for me all the time. I can’t imagine going in my car to another place, or flying across the country. I don’t have the management skills to take care of another Chez Panisse. In fact, I can only imagine it getting smaller.

Karen: Is that because of the attention to detail?

Alice: And the relationships. Every person who comes to the restaurant needs to have a wonderful time  — it’s still a word of mouth business. So it’s essential to be engaged closely with the people who work here. The credibility of Chez Panisse comes from those people, and I stand on the platform they provide. And I am connected to all the farmers, too, I know them all. I just couldn’t connect the same way if I had a bigger business. Maybe some people can, but not me.

Karen: The restaurant recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Are there any moments that stand out for you over the years?

Alice: It has all been a glorious experience, really, but I think one of the biggest honors of my career was sharing a meal at Chez Panisse with the Dalai Lama.

Karen: On Etsy there is a great deal of interest in food and also in the table in general. For example, in addition to cooking, some people might make their own the table, or dishes, or napkins, too. Do you see this becoming a trend?

Alice: Oh, yes, I think it’s all of a piece. I think we all still have this deep connection inside us to make the table special and beautiful. We haven’t had it completely beaten out of us by fast food culture. An extension of the love of food is to make a table that reflects the same set of values: not standing up, not using paper napkins, using a real glass, a pitcher with flowers.

heath-serving-dish

ShopMend

Vintage Heath serving dish.

Karen: I think it’s interesting that you, Natalie Chanin,  and Cathy Bailey from Heath Ceramics know each other and collaborate occasionally. (Heath co-designed lines of dishes for Chez Panisse and Alabama Chanin; Natalie Chanin has held sewing workshops at Heath and The Edible Schoolyard.) How did you all meet?

Alice: Christina Kim  is a close friend on mine and I met Cathy Bailey through Christina. This connected me to the work of Natalie, who is a friend of Cathy’s.

Karen: So here are the three of you who are national figures in food, apparel, a whole world of things for the home. I can only imagine the conversations you have had.

Alice: Yes, we’ve had those conversations. We really have this thing in common. Art is very important, and community, and valuing the skills that produce the art. And appreciating nature, like Natalie with organic fabric, teaching people how valuable the work can be and how like food it grows from the soil upwards.

Karen: In addition to recipes, your new book, The Art of Simple Food II, also contains several chapters on home gardening.

Alice: Yes, the book is about recipes from the garden. Gardening helps us understand what we’re asking other people to do for us, to empathize with the farmer and to learn to treasure him or her. The only real way to do that is to have your own little plot. That’s how you realize how special the work of growing food is.

Karen: Could you talk about the role of teaching children, including how this is done at the Edible Schoolyard?

Alice: There should be a saturation of values in the school day: to feed every child at school for free and to feed from sustainable farms. We can teach children every subject through food: math through the recipes; science through everything that happens in the garden and the kitchen; improvisation cooking as a way to teach drama; recipes as way to learn about writing and giving clear instructions. And social skills — you can use the pleasure of food to teach children the values that they need to live together.

Karen: I’ve heard you say that having famous chefs is one thing, but we will really be getting somewhere when we start having famous farmers.

Alice: I really believe that. And famous ranchers, beekeepers, fishers, all the people who provide everything we eat. The ones who are doing it the right way — we need to take care of them, and elevate the professions of farming and growing food.

87 comments

  • AnatsPolyDolls

    Anat Peled from AnatsPolyDolls said 5 years ago

    I will be happy to eat with you and with his holiness the Dali lama!

  • VelvetRevived

    VelvetRevived from VelvetRevived said 5 years ago

    A very enjoyable interview! I have read Ms. Water's cookbooks like they were novels for many years!

  • ShauneilSupplies

    Tobey Tobey from ShauneilSupplies said 5 years ago

    The Edible Schoolyard Project............love, love, love it!

  • PaperAltar

    PaperAltar from PaperAltar said 5 years ago

    Food RockStar <3

  • Caheez

    Carla Helene' from Caheez said 5 years ago

    This is a very sweet article! I loved reading about Alice and her business philosophy. There truly is magic in personal touches and her ideal of keeping her business on a small scale is a testament to quality, not quantity! I was just having a conversation about that this morning! As an owner of a handmade shop here on Etsy, this concept is something dear to my heart! Farming, cooking, ranching, crocheting... the craft may be different but staying true to one's roots and one's heart is the best gift anyone could ever give the world!

  • jamieshelman
  • cottonbirddesigns

    Angela Cotton from CottonBirdDesigns said 5 years ago

    Great article!

  • PruAtelier

    Jeanne B from PruAtelier said 5 years ago

    Indeed as the song goes....."You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant!" Terrific interview, a wonderful journey and the best for many years to come!

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 5 years ago

    I LOVE Alice Waters, I discovered her watchign I want to say Colbert or Stewart a few years ago. in the same rough time period I learned about the pink slime scandal and a few other food related scandals..... I grew up eating garbage.... And I didn't think there was a problem with it. Till the pink slime..... Alice Waters was the first person who reached me when talking about food. People had been telling me how I should eat for decades, I couldn't hear them. But I heard her and I looked around at my life and my home, and my weight and checked out my food more carefully and studied what I was consuming....... And I changed my ways. Now I shop local at farmer's markets and the Whole Foods for some things and I eat healthy. If I had never seen that show with Alice Waters making a guest appearance..... I don''t know where I would be today probably having heart problems and slowly killing myself with my food. I can never thank her enough for getting through where everyone else failed. And I have typed up her Green Kitchen Manifesto, and framed it, and it sits proudly on my kitchen wall. And when ever I don't know what to do or feel like my commitment to this change in how I am living weakens, I look at it and I read it, and it is my lamp post in the darkness. We need to look at the food we are eating and the way we are living and our affect on the environment as we consume. And uhhh pink slime is revolting.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 5 years ago

    It's strange that just after Etsy started to encourage people to employ factory workers while still calling their items "hand made" you feature someone who's made a very tidy living out of one SINGLE restaurant & believes in keeping it small in order to maintain quality. It's a shame that Etsy doesn't value their sellers who think that way... but then, bulk sellers generate more fees I guess.

  • ebkriley

    EBK Riley from DeeAndFee said 5 years ago

    It's great to see this article on Alice Waters and her philosophies of food and sustainability. Thinking globally and acting locally has been more than just a catchphrase for her. The interview about her great work is really inspiring.

  • paperlovespen

    paperlovespen from paperlovespen said 5 years ago

    I agree with her so much on elevating farmers and the need to sit around a table to eat. Great .. GREAT interview!!

  • DesignerPillowShop

    Samantha from DesignerPillowShop said 5 years ago

    Great article!

  • ArtCab

    CAB from CabArtVintage said 5 years ago

    OMG ! Thank you sooooo much !!!! what a great article !!!!

  • pattiknochenhauer

    Patricia K from KeepsakesbyPatricia said 5 years ago

    I am very blessed to live in the bay area. Chez Panisse has been a local landmark here in Berkeley. The use of Organic foods, and including local farmers, ranchers and dairies makes Alice is a head of her time. She used what is in season and started a new trend. Fresh and in season. The original dinner party and passion for what she does shows her being centered and strong through her many of her restaurant fires. we can all take a lesson from her perseverance and love of what she does.

  • Gardenleafdesigns

    GARDEN LEAF SEASIDE from GardenLeafSeaside said 5 years ago

    Beautiful inspiring story. Ox

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    What a great article! Thank you!!!

  • SusanFaye

    Susan Faye from SusanFayePetProjects said 5 years ago

    There is something so sacred about growing something beautiful, harvesting it, creating a beautiful meal, then enjoying it with someone you love. I love Alice Water's idea of "farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, fishers, all the people who provide everything we eat... The ones who are doing it the right way" achieving fame and becoming the objects of our adulation.

  • dizzylizzydaisy

    Liz Sterne from LaBelleReverie said 5 years ago

    Feel so privileged to be featured as part of such an inspiring article! One of the reasons we moved to France to bring up our children here was because we loved the way that emphasis on family and good food still features so much here. School Children either go home to eat en famille or stay at school and have an amazing three course lunch. The kids eating habits (and ours) have changed enormously, due to the wealth of beautiful fresh local produce available here, and the reason my Etsy shop started was because our home was overflowing with all the gorgeous tableware and linen I had collected at local brocantes as our lives seem to hinge so much around mealtimes and being round the meal table together these days. I was amazed recently when we went to a restaurant and my kids (aged 7 & 4) both asked for duck for lunch...that said, I still can't get my daughter to eat broccoli or my son to eat lettuce!!

  • normaharrell

    Norma from CultOfChiffon said 5 years ago

    Fans of Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, and foodie culture in general should check out the 2006 article on her by Vanity Fair magazine.

  • gardenofsimples

    Lydia and Kurt McCauley from StoneHouseArtifacts said 5 years ago

    What a delightful and heartfelt and inspiring interview. Thank you for sharing this! Lovely, lovely, lovely.

  • Cheerupcherup

    Alaina Cherup from CheerUpCherup said 5 years ago

    yes thank you for sharing!

  • eleanoragnelli

    Eleanor from EEEsGems said 5 years ago

    Wonderful write up about a lovely lady. Had dinner at Chez Panisse and still remember it as a fantastic place, saw food served I only read about. I believe she is a movement all by herself.

  • timelapse

    timelapse from timelapse said 5 years ago

    Lovely interview! Those of you who live in her area are truly blessed....what an amazing woman. And I cannot begin to imagine the thrill of dining with the Dalai Lama, one of the most incredible men of our day, in my mind. Thank you!

  • jizbasusan

    Susan Jizba from TheWeaverOfWords said 5 years ago

    I love Alice's approach, as if she is making each meal for a gathering of friends. Her lovely attention to detail, the admiration and appreciation that she gives the farmers and to every person involved in the process, and the joy that she derives from making a simple home cooked meal. I'm sure all of this can be tasted in the wonderful food that she creates! It's no surprise to me that she's become so world famous. Thank you for featuring such a wonderful person!!!

  • metroretrovintage

    metroretrovintage from MetroRetroVintage said 5 years ago

    Love this interview with Alice Waters! Who also looks marvelous by the way. I am a big fan of hers from way back, and used to follow her, Pepin, Laurel Robertson, Lappe, and other cooking "pioneers" at the time. I will be shopping for the latest cookbook and thank you!

  • AnotherSkyVintageLLC

    AnotherSkyVintageLLC from AnotherSkyVintageLLC said 5 years ago

    Wonderful interview. I am an admirer of Alice Waters from way back. Thank you for bringing this to us!

  • handjstarcreations

    Judy from handjstarcreations said 5 years ago

    Recently had dinner at Chez Pannisse when dropping my daughter at Berkeley. It was the best meal I have ever had, and it wasn't just the food, it was the wonderful experience.. certainly helped with forgetting that my first child was off to college! What a wonderful person Alice Waters is.. wanting to live my life like her..

  • CocoHandbag

    DUCHESS OF SWOON from ARTFULHEIRLOOM said 5 years ago

    An inspiration for us all. Book on wish list!

  • plantillo

    Sabine Herrmann from Plantillo said 5 years ago

    One of the things I love most about living in Berkeley is the Edible Schoolyard just a few blocks from my house - both my daughters were so lucky to have these fabulous garden and cooking classes that every kids in every school should be able to enjoy. Thank you Alice!

  • WetDesert

    MJ Toops from WetDesertVintage said 5 years ago

    What a wonderful interview! I grew up on a small farm in the Midwest and realized as a young adult that it was unusual that I knew where most of food came from (vegetables from my backyard, the hog from our farm, the eggs from my neighbors). As I've grown up, I've certainly sampled my fair share of McDonald's but I support Alice's idea that famous farmers will show a momentous shift in society's views towards food. I also think that Etsy is the perfect place to search for linens and glasses and kitchen pieces that will elevate dining to an even higher plane.

  • Aristocrafts

    Aristocrafts from Aristocrafts said 5 years ago

    One of the most uplifting interviews I've ever had the pleasure of reading!

  • mouserrano

    Lisa Serrano Diaz from PrincessMouseyCards said 5 years ago

    Fantastic! These are the places that are very popular in Austin, TX. We are very Blessed to have this type of dining here. I always love to see this type of dining everywhere. I am such a supporter of the shop local/ eat local movement. I love to shop at farmers markets here in Austin. Beautiful work & beautiful interview.

  • tinderjewelry

    Tinder Saubert from TinderJewelry said 5 years ago

    Lovely.

  • InMaterial

    Peggy McCallum from InMaterial said 5 years ago

    I remember eating at Chez Panisse in 1981 and not realizing how special of a restaurant it was. Then living in Berkeley, we would walk by it several times a week on our way to all of the wonderful shops and restaurants the city had (and has) to offer. Wish we spent more mealtimes there.

  • Powerofflower

    Lorena Balea-Raitz from LorenasInkDesigns said 5 years ago

    Simply gorgeous!

  • gabydesign

    Gaby from ModernRitual said 5 years ago

    Great interview! I admire her style of business and would love to dine at Chez Panisse! It sounds like a great experience.

  • LittleTinyChef

    TinyCookies from TinyCookies said 5 years ago

    Awesome article :)

  • annamariapotamiti

    Annamaria Potamiti from annamariapotamiti said 5 years ago

    Wonderful interview! So interesting to read the motivation for starting the restaurant and the value system that has made it all such a success! Thank you for sharing it here!

  • annamariapotamiti

    Annamaria Potamiti from annamariapotamiti said 5 years ago

    Wonderful interview. So interesting to read about the motivation behind opening the restaurant in the first place and the value system that made it all such a huge success! Thank you sharing it here.

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 5 years ago

    "You can do a lot for your diet by eliminating foods that have mascots"~ Ted Spiker

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 5 years ago

    Love it!

  • creativehistory

    Creative History from CreativeHistory said 5 years ago

    Must admit, not heard of her before (I'm UK based) but the interview was a very interesting read. I think that with the continuing economic difficulties people are starting to look more into things like "grow your own" and cooking from scratch, both of which are very positive things :)

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 5 years ago

    I remember going to a restaurant like this in Hinton, WV and a gentleman named Trotter owned it! Great post!

  • phoebec

    Phoebe K from BoxSet said 5 years ago

    She is very inspirational. I just read her biography, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Her story is amazing and she seems so different from the image I had of her in my head when I started reading.

  • bluefrostcat

    Burgess Smith from RiegelGoodsCompany said 5 years ago

    So admire the teachings of Alice Waters - simplicity and good health through good food. The Edible Schoolyard is such a great concept that can be used throughout the country to teach about great food and the importance of sustainability. Thanks for the article and hope Alice Waters continues to inspire others! Great job!

  • lmouer

    Lynsey from lmouer said 5 years ago

    Great interview! She sounds like a great person and fantastic business owner! Bravo! Thank you for sharing!

  • fancy4u

    fancy4u from BrushAndFeather said 5 years ago

    i have to admit, i didn't know who Alice Waters was before this post, so thank you for introducing me to this wonderful and interesting lady.

  • dgmart

    dgmart from dgmart said 5 years ago

    So inspirable

  • dgmart

    dgmart from dgmart said 5 years ago

    inspiring interview

  • snowflakesara20

    Sara from UrbanFarmhouseTampa said 5 years ago

    Great Interview. Thank you for sharing her story.

  • birdloft

    birdloft Libby from birdloft said 5 years ago

    Keeping it handmade, keeping it small! beautiful principles that take discipline and some kind of love to live by. Thank you for doing this, Karen.

  • agebo

    Ann Cosgrove from acbcDesign said 5 years ago

    Lovely article - such a fan of Alice's The Art of Simple Food. Looking forward to checking out part 2!

  • refugium

    jodi from refugium said 5 years ago

    Thanks for this, Karen! Alice is a long time hero of mine.

  • crazyartsmake

    Dickson Lee from newjewelryarts said 5 years ago

    Lovely.

  • BozenaWojtaszek

    Bozena Wojtaszek from BozenaWojtaszek said 5 years ago

    Simple as that. And so difficult to understand by so many... Chapeau bas, Alice!

  • rumpleshop

    Rumple from AnemoneReadsPaperie said 5 years ago

    Very inspiring - thanks!

  • QuiltSewPieceful

    Gail from QuiltSewPieceful said 5 years ago

    I love Alice Waters and what she stands for. In fact I featured her in a treasury more than a year ago, when I was doing a series of "Famous Women" http://www.etsy.com/treasury/NzM4NjEyM3wyNzI0MzA4NDM2/who-am-i-famous-women-and-mothers-1?index=13&ref=treasury_search&atr_uid=

  • WomanShopsWorld

    Carter Seibels Singh from WomanShopsWorld said 5 years ago

    Lovely interview with Alice Waters! I used to live in Berkeley and was lucky enough to dine at Chez Panisse.....what a memorable experience! Thank you etsy for shedding light on this simple concept.

  • debvasbinder

    Deb Vasbinder from BabyCuteBaby said 5 years ago

    What a great read - wonderful interview - Thanks for sharing!

  • LieneKikuteDesigns

    Liene from SilkArtbyLiene said 5 years ago

    Great interview

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 5 years ago

    Love this.

  • FluffyFlowers

    FluffyFlowers from FluffyFlowers said 5 years ago

    Know your farmers, awesome! :)

  • rwascher

    Rosemary Wascher from DarburyDog said 5 years ago

    Great article, love growing my own veggie's, and cooking with them.

  • kathyjohnson3

    Kathy Johnson from kathyjohnson3 said 5 years ago

    Great article! Coming from a farming community, I do appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to bring delicious home grown food to our tables everynight!

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 5 years ago

    Awesome article!

  • Ebruk

    Ebruk from Ebruk said 5 years ago

    wonderful story ! Thanks for sharing.

  • maclancy

    Marianne Clancy from maclancy said 5 years ago

    My daughter is a chef and just started a new restaurant in Eugene called Carmelita Spatz~I love Alice and her philosophy is like my daughter Sara's who is now using all organic foods and local as much as possible. Thanks for the article! If all restaurants could only be as intimate and sustainable!

  • 8point8

    8point8 from ThinkEco2 said 5 years ago

    Fantastic article!

  • MrsGingerandWasabi

    Marta DQ from tribomo said 5 years ago

    Great article,very inspiring. I enjoyed reading her philosophy, how you can be successful being small, just being truly you and maintaining the same values for 40 years! Congrats!

  • photographicloot

    Jennifer Johnson from BelleFoto said 5 years ago

    Very nice!

  • tocta

    Rita Teles from Tocta said 5 years ago

    One of the best interviews on Etsy, I do believe too that the world will be a better place when we have famous beekeepers and farmers and fishers, the ones who are making it right, in harmony with Nature and the seasons and our body, not the ones that explore nature. Thank you for sharing your words, Rita

  • SoulRole

    Nancy Campbell from SoulRole said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this interview.Alice-you are an inspiration and I could not agree with you more in all that you shared,especially on celebrating the hard working people who provide us with our most basic human need:good healthy food.In addition to my Etsy business, my husband is also an organic farmer,and has volunteered at our newly converted charter school to try and teach the children how to grow food.Living on an island it is so crucial that we relay on the aina to provide our food,not barges bringing in food from the mainland.Mahalo nui loa ALice,for the great and simple work you do.

  • sissidavril

    sylvie from sissidavril said 5 years ago

    Formidable!

  • brucepark

    Bruce Park from BruceParkArts said 5 years ago

    I love the idea of keeping it simple, small and handmade. Wonderful article.

  • missjoanshobby

    Miss Joan from MissJoansBridal said 5 years ago

    Inspiring!

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 5 years ago

    Great interview....Thanks for sharing with us.

  • JenMcLamb

    Jennifer Stephenson McLamb from JenMcLamb said 5 years ago

    Alice Waters is such an inspiration for those of us interested in living a planet-friendly lifestyle. I love the Art of Simple Food and cant wait for version 2.0!

  • allstarorganics

    allstarorganics from allstarorganics said 5 years ago

    Thank you Karen for understanding that food is the handmade product that we all need everyday. Alice's great understanding of the work of farmers has come to her in the most legitimate way. She has taken the best part of a lifetime to understand it. As a farmer, I have always thought that if people simple seek out and choose those foods that are grown in accordance with the values they say they support, then all will be well. The way to build a just, safe, diverse and nourishing food system is one bite at a time. It is actually possible to eat your values. Alice Waters is proof that it's possible, and highly influential. Her work at Edible Schoolyard is a lasting tribute to putting your effort where your values are. This work has it's echo far down the corridors of time. Alice is a powerful change agent. One thing I've learned from knowing Alice for a little while is that when she says something is going to happen, you better get ready for it. Edible Schoolyard and all it's permutations, including the international following it has, is a gift to this nation and to the world.

  • kfelt

    Felt K from feltk said 5 years ago

    Awesome article!

  • Fiume

    Erin O'Rourke from Aruguletta said 5 years ago

    She's a truly inspirational woman. I love the part about celebrity chefs selling frozen pizzas. So funny & true. Alice Waters has a refreshing integrity & point of view.

  • ElvesLi

    Mia Chan from CantonVintageStore said 5 years ago

    I do agree that people should take what they really enjoy and meaningful as their profession.

  • Kam2012

    Kam from RiverGoddessBoutique said 5 years ago

    Great article. Very inspiring.

  • karenbarnum2

    karen Barnum said 5 years ago

    Hi, I enjoyed this entire page. I hope all of the artists here make out well in the beginning of these pages.

  • MyGreenBottoms

    Kelly Ellis from UniqueApplique said 5 years ago

    So inspiring! Love the vegetable mill.

  • bpdmso

    Mary from MarySanzJewelry said 5 years ago

    Great article, thanks for sharing !

  • korenkwan

    Koren Kwan from GarasuWonderland said 4 years ago

    interesting story!

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