Alice Waters (born 1944) is one of the unrivaled pioneers of California cuisine, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, among the first U.S. restaurants to promote locally grown, seasonally available, organically produced ingredients. While this now might seem a given, this philosophy was groundbreaking in 1971, when Waters first opened her restaurant.
Over the last forty years, Waters has been at the forefront of the “good” food movement, introducing gardening programs into elementary schools – “edible schoolyard” instruction that not only shows kids how to grow, but what to eat. She’s pushed presidents to install a veggie garden on the White House lawn (the Obama’s finally did it) and vigorously advocates locally produced foods in lieu of the international shipments of mass-produced grub – meals that are unhealthy for both the environment and consumer.
Waters has also penned several cookbooks – including her newest – The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. She also serves as a US “governor” for Slow Food, the movement toward local farming and cuisines, first created in Italy in response the opening of a McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps in Rome.
All of these acts have made Waters a heroine to some, a pest to others. Critics accuse her of elitism – claiming that her push for good food is possible only for the rich and educated. It’s true Waters own tastes tend toward the more elegant and French-inspired recipes, but her advice to her flock is simple – try to buy local, fresh and as pesticide free as possible. Buy from a farmer/breeder who lives down the road. And when all else fails, grow your own. Over the years, these mantras have made Waters something of an icon – a longtime proponent of the backyard garden, small farm, and locally resourced, all organic cuisine.