Alice Waters
Executive Chef and Owner

Alice Waters was born on April 28,1944, in Chatham, New Jersey. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 with a degree in French Cultural Studies, and trained at the Montessori School in London before spending a seminal year traveling in France. She has a daughter, Fanny, who was born in 1983.

Alice opened Chez Panisse in 1971, serving a single fixed-price menu that changes daily. The set menu format remains at the heart of Alice’s philosophy of serving only the highest quality products, only when they are in season. Over the course of three decades, Chez Panisse has developed a network of mostly local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures Chez Panisse a steady supply of pure and fresh ingredients.

The upstairs caf at Chez Panisse opened in 1980 with an open kitchen, a wood-burning pizza oven, and an la carte menu. Caf Fanny, a stand-up caf that serves breakfast and lunch, was opened a few miles away in 1984.

Alice is a strong advocate for farmer’s markets and for sound and sustainable agriculture. In 1996, in celebration of the restaurant’s twenty-fifth anniversary, she created the Chez Panisse Foundation to help underwrite cultural and educational programs such as the one at the Edible Schoolyard that demonstrate the transformative power of growing, cooking, and sharing food.

Among Alice’s many board affiliations, she is the Founder and Director of the Chez Panisse Foundation, an International Governor of Slow Food, a Visiting Dean at the French Culinary Institute, an Honorary Trustee of the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts in Napa, and Board Member of the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Alice is author and co-author of eight books, including Chez Panisse Vegetables, Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, Fanny at Chez Panisse, a storybook and cookbook for children, and most recently, the encyclopedic Chez Panisse Fruit. Chez Panisse restaurant was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine in 2001. Alice has received numerous awards, including the Bon Appetit magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and the James Beard Humanitarian Award in 1997. She was named Best Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation in 1992 and Cuisine et Vins de France listed her as one of the ten best chefs in the world in 1986.

“I believe that every child in this world needs to have a relationship with the land…to know how to nourish themselves…and to know how to connect with the community around them.”

by Susannah Abbey

Four years after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in French Cultural Studies, Alice Waters found herself walking through a grand old Central Market.
Alice Waters

It was 1963, it was Paris, and as she wandered through the enormous fruit and vegetable market, Waters was struck by the array of brilliant colors, the music of farmers hawking their produce, and the fact that there, in the middle of a great city, she felt “directly connected to the land.”

“I had an epiphany,” she says. This epiphany resulted in Chez Panisse, a Berkeley restaurant founded upon Waters’ ecological philosophy and which, nearly thirty years after opening its doors, has been named “The Best Restaurant in America” by both the James Beard Foundation and by Gourmet magazine.

To supply the restaurant, Waters bought only food grown in accordance with the principles of sustainable agriculture. Since it opened in 1971, the fixed-price menus offered nightly at Chez Panisse have consisted only of fresh ingredients, harvested in season, and purchased from local farmers.

By pursuing one goal, Waters has accomplished another: she has successfully established relationships with local farmers and become an integral part of the agricultural community (she serves on the board of one of the farmers’ markets). In this way she has demonstrated how a restaurant can thrive while contributing to the general welfare of a community.

Waters had always loved cooking for friends, and one of the things she wanted to achieve at Chez Panisse was to reaffirm the bond that people establish with one another by sharing a meal. She values knowing her customers and watching them get to know one another. Waters’ philosophy of cooking and eating enables people to connect with the source of their food, both the land it came from and the seasonal cycles in which it was grown and harvested.

In 1996, inspired by The Garden Project at the San Francisco County Jail, Waters decided to apply her principles to education. The Edible Schoolyard Project became Waters’ new passion. The project began at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley. The idea was to transform some land near the school into a garden and, in the process, to teach local school children about food and agriculture, to reacquaint them with the land. Because funding was unavailable, Waters asked parents and members of the business community for help.
A student hauls weeds out of the school garden.

A parcel of unused land was selected as the site of the garden, and the asphalt shell that covered it broken up and hauled away. In 1999, over 120 people came to help plant the first cover crop, which prepared the field for cultivation by adding nutrients to the soil.

The student garden staff has already enjoyed several years’ worth of harvest, and has started growing an herb garden that includes tea and medicinal herbs. Agricultural practices are constantly being revised and updated. Every year the Edible Schoolyard staff attends the Ecological Farming Conference in Monterey.

In the past few years a kitchen classroom has been created. Here students learn about staple foods eaten around the world, and get a chance to transform the garden’s harvest into creatively prepared meals. The cooking of food becomes a lesson in sharing ideas and pooling labor, the eating an opportunity for unhurried social interaction.

Children line up for lunch at Martin Luther King Middle School.

“I believe that every child in this world needs to have a relationship with the land…to know how to nourish themselves…and to know how to connect with the community around them,” says Waters. The middle school students cultivate and harvest the crops, and the cafeteria buys and prepares the produce for school lunches. Waters hopes that this program will teach kids to value fresh food and value their own contributions that will bring it to the table. Eventually, she also hopes that the Edible Schoolyard will inspire a national change in school curricula. Already, other middle and high schools in California and Ohio have launched similar projects.

If Waters weren’t so passionate about the healing life force teaming inside natural foods organically grown and simply prepared, she would never have managed to communicate her message to a nation of people raised on canned peas and meatloaf. For we have Waters to thank for those sublime baby greens — the kind you see in profusion at even the most commercial chain supermarkets — that mercifully replaced iceberg lettuce.

And iceberg’s demise is just the tip of Waters’ contribution to our culinary evolution. We also owe Waters thanks for introducing our taste buds to simple pleasures, saying no to the overwrought cuisine that dominated “gourmet” dining for decades and abolishing the pretension that masked the elegant essence of unadorned, nourishing fare. As San Francisco food critic Patricia Unterman noted, “Julia [Child] set the stage for the culinary boom in America by teaching people how to cook, and then Alice Waters took everyone to the next step by teaching about ingredients.” We are in Waters’ debt for teaching us how to eat a peach, how to savor every bite. And to America’s small, organic farmers, she is, as the New York Times dubbed her, “a patron saint” who has shown chefs and diners alike that unprocessed, unadulterated, chemical-free food ranks somewhere up there next to godliness.

Among foodies — critics, gourmands, colleagues, farmers — Waters is the top of the food chain, an innovator whom the New York Times dubbed the “Mother of American Cooking.” Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker called her the “Materfamilias to a generation of chefs.” And not only American chefs. Waters’ aesthetic has had a dramatic impact on European cuisine as well, most notably in France (not a country that has taken kindly to America’s sense of taste) where, Gopnik writes, the legendary winegrower Aubert de Villaine, co-director of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, the greatest wine estate in France, “speaks of her in hushed tones.”

Indeed, she is regarded as a sort of high priestess — a spiritual leader who showed the way to serve and eat locally grown food in season. Yet for all the fanfare, Waters is a most unusual flavor of celebrity chef. Though she’s had an abundance of offers over the years, she has never marketed herself or franchised her restaurant. Neither has she starred in a nationally syndicated cooking show or hawked a line of frozen pizza or BBQ sauce. Her only commercial endeavors include a line of cookbooks and Cafe Fanny Granola. Compared with the likes of Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse, Waters is a culinary wallflower.

Included in Waters’ family tree — those who’ve worked under her charge — are such renowned chefs as Paul Bertolli, founder of Oakland’s Oliveto Cafe and Restaurant and co-author of several Chez Panisse cookbooks; Mark Miller of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe; Deborah Madison, founding chef of San Francisco’s upscale vegetarian restaurant Greens; Jonathan Waxman, co-proprietor of New York’s Jams; and Jeremiah Tower, former proprietor of Stars, one of San Francisco’s trendiest restaurants in the ‘80s.

Last edited by g.   Page last modified on February 12, 2006

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks