Finding fine organic fare nowadays isn’t hard; everyone is (thankfully!) hopping on the sustainable food bandwagon. But not so long ago, the notion of preparing dishes solely with market-fresh produce was considered a pipe dream and dismissed as economically impractical.
That is, until 1971, when Alice Waters broke into the culinary scene to open the now legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Little did she know that her labor of love and ever-evolving menus would birth a whole new food movement, best summed up by the now ubiquitous concept of farm-to-table dining.
Last month, the 73-year-old chef—who has authored 15 books, including two New York Times bestsellers—unveiled her latest, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook. The final installation in a three-part book deal, Waters’s newest page-turner starts off detailing her New Jersey upbringing and culminates with Chez Panisse’s opening night, during which she recalls charging guests a whopping $3.95 for three courses (!!!).
“At the end of service, there was no formal celebration,” she writes in the memoir. “It was more like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Half the people didn’t get food in any sort of a timely way. And what are we going to serve tomorrow? We didn’t want to think about that—and so, as I always did after a hard day, I opened a bottle of Fumé Blanc, and we toasted getting through the night.”
A lot has happened since that first dinner service: Waters has not only established herself as a luminary in the restaurant industry but also as a prominent food activist. She’s the founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project, which advocates free and sustainable lunches for all schoolchildren, and the longtime vice president of Slow Food International. She’s a member of the French Legion of Honor and the 2015 recipient of the National Humanities Medal. And these days, a meal at Chez Panisse will run you upwards of $100—per head.
Want a taste of Waters’s wisdom? Dear New Yorkers, you’re in luck: The culinary sage will be in town later this month to discuss her new book at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Hilton Als in what’s bound to be a riveting exchange. Stick around at the end to get your copy signed by the legend.
Why You Should Go: Part of BAM’s Unbound book launch series (created in collaboration with Greenlight Bookstore), this event is probably your best chance to hear some of Waters’s juiciest stories from the Chez Panisse kitchen. Until you read her memoir, of course.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Peter Jay Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene
Monday, October 23