Ode to Alice

May 5, 2010

No. Really.  I was a late convert but am fully indoctrinated.  Three years ago, I spent at week for work on a press trip hosted by Scharffen Berger Chocolates.  The owner, John, spent a week with editors taking us to his favorite places in Berkeley and San Francisco area. It was a dream week.  We stayed at the Claremont resort, had cooking lessons from Elizabeth Falkner at Citizen Cane, had a tasting menu from the famed Ferry Building and of course, toured the Scharfenger Chocolates Headquarters.  

On my last full day, I wanted to venture over to Chez Panisse to see if it lived up to the hip. My expectations were low.  There were grumblings that Alice Waters had taken too much credit for her work bringing organic food to the masses and some mentionings that her food was "average".   Besides, there weren't any new stories as the restaurant was 36 years old at the time and while the star was still in the sky, it didn't shine the brightest.   I stumbled upon her when a family friend went to work with her foundation, The Edible Schoolyard, featured on a PBS show.  Impressed, I found my car driving that way on that hot June day.  It was late and I passed it 2x before I realized that the famed restaurant was indeed that slightly Asian, faded spot that was Right There.  I entered and was quickly seated without reservations.  Feeling like this was an ominous sign, as most NYC restaurants, even bad ones, require a reservation.    The waitress was a doll and walked me through the American fare menu based on local ingredients.  I asked her what she'd recommend to someone who most likely would only eat there once.  She quickly said the simple garden salad and baked chicken were as good as it gets.  
True to her word, the salad was impeccable.  Fresh butter lettuces perfectly dressed, as only French housewives seem to know how to do. The chicken (usually considered v. boring) was The Most Delicious Thing I Have Ever Had (till I ate another bird this past summer in Paris that just might have surpassed it.) All this to say, it was the most pleasant hour and 1/2.  The staff was lovely; no pretention in sight and the food was out of this world.  I had no thought she would be in the kitchen but she was and that was a treat indeed.  

So loving her restaurant, impressed by her work getting intercity kids into the kitchen and garden, I bought a book thinking it'd be good to support her.  Little did I know this book would come close to changing my life.  It is my go to book for cooking. It's genius.  Her method is simple.  Learn several key ingredients for every course as your building blocks then she shows you how to change those up and add some new ones.  How this book gave me more than I paid for but I should have expect such from the Chef who founded California Cuisine and is known (like Madonna, Julia) by her first name. 

My favorite of her books....

Two weeks ago, I read that she was going to be at a fantastic book store in Brooklyn for a free lecture on her latest book, tk, that resulted from the first American's Slow Food gathering in San Francisco two years ago. I came close to going to that event so it saved me a plane ticket.  She signed it (oh my) and was generous in her praise to others like Jamie Oliver who is trying to fight an important and maybe losing battle with kids' obesity.  

Her latest which showcases favorite recipes from top chefs.....

Oh Alice.  Thank you!

Live Large,



Henley on the Horn said...

This sounds fantastic! Often the simplest things are the best!

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