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Alice Waters at the 2005 Masters of Food and Wine


Andy Lynes
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Cookery demonstrations are an enticing proposition for the keen cook; a chance to get up close and personal with a celebrity chef, get an insight to their working methods and maybe bag a few of those all important professional "tricks." The reality is often rather more mundane as ill prepared cooks mumble their way through a few recipes before scuttling back to the safety of their windowless subterranean kitchens, or self obsessed egomaniacs ram their unappetising personalities down the audience's throat.

The demos I attended at last weekend's Masters of Food and Wine at the Park Hyatt Highlands Inn in Carmel were thankfully a cut above the average. Due to work commitments, I was only able to catch the last 20 minutes or so of Charlie Palmer who was on great form. He chatted to the audience about the challenges of living in a tiny apartment in New York with four sons and fielding the usual "if I haven't got ingredient "A" can I use ingredient "B"" questions with aplomb. He was even prepared to josh with the crowd about the blocks of text in his cookbook "The Art of Aureole" being printed at odd angles.

Although slightly less well attended, Bradley Ogden's session was equally diverting, relating hair raising tales of his time with Joe Baum, tossing out culinary conundrums to the crowd and rewarding correct answers with dinner for two at one of his nine restaurants.

However, it was left to Alice Waters to provide the Masters with a truly inspirational finale. Looking at least 10 years younger than her age, Waters is the perfect advertisement for what she calls "real food." If the oft quoted mantra of local, seasonal produce simply treated is a familiar one, then it's because Waters has espoused it for many years.

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"Alain Ducasse says 85% of cooking is about shopping for ingredients. We'll I've up'd him and say its 90% about shopping," she claims, while waving a kardoon that is nearly as big as she is. She rhapsodises about the colorful array of chicories now available, "yellow and lime with splashes of purple," and gets visibly excited talking about the Tangerines she is currently serving at Chez Panisse, her legendary Berkeley restaurant.

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When Waters tells us that she "looks for vegetables in the market that talk to me, that want me to use them," we begin to understand just how close her relationship with produce really is. She explains that she has recently decided to use locally caught Salmon at the restaurant, available only between April and September, even though she could sell the fish all year round and that this has allowed her to rediscover the delights of the fresh sardines, anchovies and squid from Monterey.

In all, she talks for 90 minutes, telling us about the ensemble nature of the kitchen at the restaurant (joking that "no one person says what everyone else should do…unless I'm there!"); her Edible Schoolyard project that will make lunch part of the school curriculum; and that her next book will address the issue of affordable food.

She tells us that we need to get back to something more primitive; the cooking pot on the fire, the pestle and mortar. We need to learn that work can be pleasure, that pounding garlic can relieve our stress.

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This was a cookery demonstration so a salad got made, as did a truffle risotto and some aranchini, but that really wasn't the point. Alice Waters told us about some things that are important to her, and from that we learned what good cooking and good living can be all about.

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I guess there's room enough for all sorts of approaches to the restaurant game, but I know which I prefer. I had an opportunity for a brief chat with Alice Waters after her demo, during the "chef's tables" event where she was dishing up the truffled arancini with salad and some lovely crepes (which is what she is doing in the third photo in my first post).

I said to her that it must have taken a tremendous amount of self control not to expand her business interests beyond Chez Panisee, the cafe and the bakery and her reply was "None at all." But surely, I persisted, the opportunitites were there? "Oh yes, the opportunities were there, but I couldn't imagine doing it any other way. In fact I wish the restaurant were smaller, its a little too big."

That she has put her energies into the Chez Panisse foundation, that her cafe is immenantly affordable (I ate from the $26 pre fix menu and had a great three course lunch) and that the restaurant reasonably priced for a legendary address speaks volumes about her integrity. I'm not trying to make out that she's some sort of saint, and I have no doubt that as a business woman she has profited suitably from her endeavours, but there is no denying, as someone at the Masters put it, that "she is a class act."

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I'm new to e gullet and was happy to see this post about one of my fave chefs for sure.

I find her so inspiring and try to read everything I can about her. There are so many chefs out there that I've just had enough of...Her, I wish I could have more of!! I wish she had a tv show. Her food philosophy is one that I try to live by. I wonder if she looks 10 yrs younger than her age because of the way she eats or ...did she go for a lil nip and tuck??? LOL Anyhow, thanks for the spread on her and you're a lucky guy to have gotten this opportunity

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I wonder if she looks 10 yrs younger than her age because of the way she eats or ...did she go for a lil nip and tuck???

I'd be amazed if her looks weren't entirely natural.

The fact that she doesn't have a TV show is yet another indicator of her integrity, but if you really want to see her on screen there is a DVD available of the American Masters documentary about her.

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Oh, Andy! I wish I knew that was why you were here in town! I was there as well, pouring Ladera wines! Wasn't it an amazing event? And the food! Astonishing, really. Probably the best event I have ever worked, ever (and that includes my years working the Oscars and Emmys!)

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In some of her books, Alice Waters describes herself as a "restauratrice", not a chef. She has hired chefs (e.g. Jeremiah Tower, Paul Bertolli) from the very start of Chez Panisse. Should we be thinking of her not primarily as a cook, but as a restaurateur who, even though chefs were doing most of the work in the kitchen, has imparted a real gastronomic vision to the entire Chez Panisse operation? Or is the distinction irrelevant in an age of celebrity chefs, TV chefs, etc.?

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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In some of her books, Alice Waters describes herself as a "restauratrice", not a chef.  She has hired chefs (e.g. Jeremiah Tower, Paul Bertolli) from the very start of Chez Panisse.  Should we be thinking of her not primarily as a cook, but as a restaurateur who, even though chefs were doing most of the work in the kitchen, has imparted a real gastronomic vision to the entire Chez Panisse operation?

That is certainly how many people have thought of her over the years who came to know her work through acquaintance with the restaurant.

(In the wine forum there was a thread on Celebrity Wines, including products with celebrity-chef names glued on to them. That's an interesting counterpoint to this thread.)

-- Max

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