Learning about food from Alice Waters

Learning about food from Alice Waters

Alice Waters at the farmers market
Alice apparently likes Kale, also.

“When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.”

~ Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution


Imagine what it must be like inside the mind of Alice Waters, the same mind that fueled the movement which came to be known as “farm-to-table;” the mind who inspired Michelle Obama’s White House garden; and who’s famed restaurant Chez Panisse has hosted everyone from David Byrne to the Dalai Lama.

The inside of Chez Panisse
Chez Panisse is oh-so fancy

In her kitchen, she’s trained some of the best chefs on the planet, including Dan Barber, April Bloomfield, and David Lebovitz. And now, thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve had the chance to learn from her as well.

My kitchen background…

I haven’t always loved cooking. Four years ago, had you visited my shamefully messy then-bachelor pad, you would have proudly been served hunks of bread covered in melted brie and cheap cured meats. Ah, the days when I thought that chocolate-covered açaí berries were fancy! Sure, I could cook. I could make scrambled eggs (uh…or so I thought) or grilled cheese! I felt comfortable in the kitchen, but not confident in it.

That is, until Alice Water’s video course was released on Masterclass.

For only $99 a year, Masterclass provides video courses from some of the world’s most talented individuals. My favorites are classes from Steve Martin, Gordon Ramsay, and Meryl Streep. 


This isn’t a sponsored post, I just love this site.

What I’ve learned…

Alice's food philosophy
“Food is precious.”

In similar courses from Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller, and Wolfgang Puck, I’ve learned traditional culinary skills such as how to correctly poach and scramble eggs, make a stock, or make mashed potatoes with a refinement that could only be expected from a French chef. These chefs, along with a few others (ready for a rabbit hole? Here’s Jamie Oliver and French Guy Cooking) gave me confidence in the kitchen.

With Alice, it was different. She cooked with the same passion and skill as the others, but I can’t remember a single thing that she cooked during the course! What affected me was her attention to the spaces between the craft. The things that make the experience of food beautiful, though not the recipe itself.  

Here’s how Alice’s Masterclass changed the way I now think about food and cooking:

Let cooking be personal

  1. Throughout the course, Alice shows off some of her most meaningful possessions. She tears up while talking about the bowl her daughter made as a child that she now uses for mixing salad dressings, and laughs about the medieval-looking meat cleaver that she brought back in her carry-on from Russia.
  2. Alice only uses utensils with wooden handles. Steel is too harsh and unwelcoming. She prefers copper or ceramic.
  3. To Alice, the best food is made in kitchens that inspire joy. Through the tactile feeling of natural, simple and beautiful objects combined with the emotional feeling their memories surface, she cooks from the heart.
Alice's meat cleaver
Alice’s Russian meat cleaver

Know where your food comes from

  1. Alice shops almost exclusively at farmers markets. In a way, as the mother of the farm-to-table movement, we have her appreciation for local food to thank for farmers markets in our neighborhoods!
  2. The people who raised your produce are likely the people who will know how best to treat, store and use it. Talk to them! Asking them about their produce will help you feel closer to your food and your community while arming you with the knowledge to make you more confident in the kitchen.
  3. Alice encourages us to be excited to learn about food. If you taste a great olive oil at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask your server about it! She’s discovered some of her favorite (and inexpensive) brands just by asking her servers and chefs questions.

Don’t be afraid to pay a bit more for your food

  1. Eating healthy food is great for your heart, your health, and your mind. Who doesn’t want that? Seasonal, local produce is the best way to start cooking healthier food.
  2. Farmers markets are often crazy expensive. If you can’t afford it (or don’t want to…), grow your own! Planting your own vegetables and herbs will give you an appreciation and relationship with food that you may never experience otherwise.

Make room for ritual

  1. If possible, go to the farmers market every weekend and plan your meals for the week. Meghan and I use Trello for this. It helps us throw away less food, cook healthier, and spend more time together in the kitchen!
  2. Enjoy the process! Let cooking be fun, and not stressful. If you make a mistake, there’s always pizza delivery!
  3. Build a sense memory around cooking. If something tastes amazing, lock the flavors away in the back of your mind. Remember what it smelled like, looked like, and how it felt when you were cooking it. You’ll draw from these food memories in the kitchen!

Give back

Alice and some students from The Edible Schoolyard Project
Alice and some students from The Edible Schoolyard Project
  1. Teach others and pass the passion on.
  2. Give back to your garden by composting your scraps. It’s better for the environment and great for your local bugs, flowers, and other critters!
  3. Volunteer at your local farms in an effort to benefit your community and better understand where your food comes from.

Cooking simply, but extraordinarily….

Somewhere along the way, cooking got lost. Most of us have memories around our grandmother’s table at Thanksgiving, or of the family’s secret meatball recipe. How many of our mothers can make homemade biscuits from memory, maybe even smothered in sausage gravy? They grew up without celebrity chefs but still possess a love for food and cooking. What we’re doing here isn’t new — it’s one of the oldest disciplines in the world. We’re just in a food renaissance.

Chez Panisse
Chez Panisse, Berkeley, CA.

At 27, with no former culinary training, Alice opened Chez Panisse. Now, I’m 28, and her story inspires me in ways that I can’t even describe. Owning my own restaurant is a dream that I fear will never be realized. I put so much stock into needing to know the craft and having years of experience. Might passion be enough? If I create a place that brings people together over beautiful and healthy food, will everything else fall into place over time? For Alice, it has and in ways she certainly could never have predicted.

So what about you? What do you love about food? What makes you feel connected to the experience of cooking?

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