09 May 2008

book review: 'alice waters and chez panisse' by thomas mcnamee

Wow. Just writing the title of this blog shot me right back to 4th grade book reports. Maybe I can make this a bit more exciting than those were. Well, hell, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse! Isn't that exciting enough?

Okay, let's see...if you don't know who Alice Waters is, essentially, she currently a leader in initiating and promoting healthy school lunch programs and school gardens across the country; she's one of the leaders of the Slow Food movement in the U.S. (what she called the 'Delicious Revolution'); she is a mentor to many, including Michael Pollan*, and back in the 70s, when she opened her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, she lead one of the first major restaurants to focus on organic, local, and seasonal food.

So this book incorporates interviews with her and her friends, family, and colleagues, and offers a pretty thorough glimpse of her life leading up to Chez Panisse, through it's timeline, and up to the present.

Prior to reading this book, I didn't know a ton about Alice Waters, but had heard her mentioned often in other things I've come across in relation to sustainable food, cooking, etc. Oh it was such a fun and easy read, and I loved it especially because I felt like I related to Alice in a lot of ways-- ambition, desire for quality and real products, and interest in children's health and 'real food' education and appreciation for the masses. And there was just so much she said and experienced that really resonated with me.

In the book she says, "I believe that the destiny of humankind in the twenty-first century will depend most of all on how people choose to nourish themselves. And if we can educate the senses, and break down the wall of ignorance between farmers and eaters, I am convinced-- because I have seen it with my own eyes time and again-- people will inevitable choose the sustainable way, which is always the most delicious alternative." Yes!

The book is sprinkled with informal, conversational recipes, photographs, funny and enlightening anecdotes, and just a cool glimpse at the making of an American cultural icon.

*Michael Pollan wrote 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' which is an amazing, amazing book. Please read it. You will be enlightened at every turn of the page. I just started reading 'In Defense of Food' which I am getting the idea is a response to 'Dilemma' and may be a better, quicker read if you need to cut to the chase like that.

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