Chez Panisse at 40
They were out in force last weekend, the gourmet gurus from around the world as Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, the little restaurant where the organic food revolution began four decades ago, celebrated a well-deserved 40 year anniversary. Waters once called her creation a “simple little place where we could cook and talk politics.”
I have never eaten at the restaurant but Alice Waters is an inspiration to me. When I turned vegetarian in 1978 the only option on my diet was soy protein pieces that looked and smelt terrible. My mother and I bravely experimented with various sauces, but nothing covered that taste. I only stayed veggie because I wanted to date this political 13-year-old who had told me she would never date a guy who murdered and abused animals (or allowed others to). My desire to eat healthy outlasted my teenage crush.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will hang a photographic portrait of Waters. It is telling that Ms. Waters chose a photo not of the restaurant, but of the Edible Schoolyards in which students create and tend an organic garden as part of their school curriculum, that became her second passion.
My eldest son attends Martin Luther King Jr., Middle School in Berkeley, the scene of Water’s first Edible Schoolyard. I am extremely grateful to her for this initiative and her desire to share her vision with our youth while they are still at an impressionable age.
The weekend’s events saw intimate dinners cooked in homes around the Bay Area by different chefs — Waters didn’t want a big gala event where she wouldn’t have an opportunity to talk with her guests — doubled as fund-raisers for the Edible Schoolyard Project.
Thank you Ms. Waters for having a vision that will impact people from all walks of life and all socioeconomic levels. Berkeley salutes you.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).