Over 50 Years Ago, Alice Waters Opened the First Farm-to-Table Restaurant, Chez Panisse. Today, She continues to Spread Her Influence Around The World.
Known for her pioneering approach to farm-to-table dining, Alice Waters is a vocal advocate for sustainable and locally sourced ingredients, fostering a deeper connection between chefs and their farmers.
Alice Waters’ culinary philosophy emphasizes simplicity while highlighting the natural flavors of fresh, seasonal produce. Having received numerous accolades for her contributions to the culinary world and sustainable food practices—all while influencing a generation of chefs to prioritize quality ingredients that are ethically sourced with environmental consciousness—she is truly iconic.
- Waters Taught Preschool Before Opening Her First Restaurant
After graduating from Berkeley, Waters was drawn to the philosophies of learning by doing emphasized in the Montessori-style teaching. She went to the International Montessori School in London for their certification program, where she gained an understanding that our senses are pathways into our minds. Food is an easy way to reach all the senses.
Waters recounts, “When I started the restaurant, I wanted it to be a place that smelled good, looked good, felt good, not too much noise. Wanted displays of fruits and flowers that were in season, and all of that candlelight on the table was very, very important.”
2. She Cooked Filmmaker Werner Herzog’s Shoes In Duck Fat and Seasonings
In the late 1970s, German filmmaker and actor Werner Herzog met a young filmmaker named Errol Morris while studying at UC Berkeley. According to one source, “Herzog had listened to this young wannabe filmmaker go on and on and on about the kind of films he was going to make—one day.”
His hesitation and lethargic approach to his career bothered Herzog, who incentivized Morris to finish his film by placing the infamous bet. If Morris finished the film, Herzog would eat his own shoe.
In April 1979, after losing the bet, Werner Herzog approached Waters—whose restaurant Chez Panisse was a popular place for the Berkeley film crowd—if she might prepare the dish on camera for his short film, 1980’s Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.
This is the recipe they came up with:
Chefs: Werner Herzog & Alice Waters
1 pair ankle-height leather shoes, well-worn
2 heads of garlic
4 red onions
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh rosemary
Hot sauce (preferably a Mexican salsa picante like Cholula or Valentina)
Warm duck fat
Brush dirt off the soles of shoes. Unlace and stuff each inner cavity with a whole head of unpeeled garlic, two peeled red onions, and several bunches of parsley. Season with a dozen or more generous shakes of hot sauce. Reinsert laces and use them to truss shoes. Place the stuffed shoes in a large metal pot. Add equal parts liquid duck fat and hot water to cover shoe tops. Add up to a dozen whole rosemary sprigs and additional hot sauce if desired. Salt to taste. Cook over moderate heat for approximately five hours.Dangerous Minds
3. Waters Named Chez Panisse After a Character in the 1930s Fanny Trilogy.
Chez Panisse was named after Honoré Panisse, one of the riot of characters in the 1930s Fanny Trilogy by French playwright and director Marcel Pagnol. Having lived and studied abroad in France, Waters was inspired by the French way of living and drawn to the trilogy depiction of life on the Marseille waterfront.
She even named her daughter Fanny after the love interest in the play. Lore has it that she chose not to name the restaurant Fanny because “Panisse was the one who had all the money.“
4. First Woman To Be Named “Best Chef in America” by James Beard Foundation
As noted by the Chicago Tribune, “Until very recently, a woman`s place was in the home, but not the kitchen—at least not the professional kitchen of a top-flight restaurant.”
Honoring Waters with the “Best Chef in America” award in 1992 was a long time coming after more than 20 years of running Chez Panisse and advocating for a change in the American food industry. It was also a significant turning point for female chefs.
Waters not only represented the shift in the slow food movement but also a growing recognition for female chefs.
5. Founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project.
Waters had begun working with the Berkeley public school system to integrate growing, cooking, and serving food into the school curriculum. Using her earlier training in Montessori teaching, “the Edible Schoolyard Project allowed students to tend a one-acre organic garden and turned an abandoned cafeteria into a ‘kitchen classroom,’ where the students learned to prepare the food they grew themselves”.
Waters “believes every kid in America should get free organic food at school, but she has little faith in the government helping with this plan. Any way we do this has to be done outside of the government and outside the pyramid, Waters remarks. We need to go through the doors that are open, not the doors that are closed.”
Since its inception, the Edible Schoolyard Project has grown to more than 6,200 schools across the nation.
Stay tuned for more fun facts that you might now know about other famous chefs.