MAKERS Profile

Alice Waters

Food Pioneer

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Alice Waters on her epicurean awakening in Paris, breaking the culinary mold stateside, and bringing gardens to public schools.
Alice Waters is a chef, author, activist and pioneer at the forefront of the locally grown, organic food movement. Hailed as “the mother of American cooking,” she opened her visionary restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, in 1971. Her commitment to finding the highest-quality, seasonal ingredients and using a simple, improvisational approach sparked a tidal wave in American cuisine. For the last four decades, the restaurant has consistently ranked among the “World's 50 Best Restaurants” and has cultivated a community of local farmers, ranchers, and other suppliers who share Waters’s vision of delectable, sustainable agriculture. Even as a child growing up in Chatham, New Jersey, Waters had a keen sense of taste. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, with a degree in French Cultural Studies in 1967. During her time at Berkeley, she studied abroad in Paris, where she shopped at daily produce markets and frequented neighborhood restaurants - an experience she found revelatory. “I feel in love with the taste of the dishes I had. But it was really way more than that,” she recalls. “I just fell in love with the whole way of life - that took food and connected you to nature, the time, the moment in time.” The experience and subsequent travels inspired her to open Chez Panisse back in Berkeley.   Waters has authored eight books on food and cooking, including Chez Panisse Cooking and The Art of Simple Food. She founded the Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996, and created the Edible Schoolyard program, which brings organic gardens, kitchen classrooms, and sustainable food curriculum to several public schools across the country. Waters is also a champion on national level for school lunch reform and universal access to healthy, organic foods.   In 1992, she became the first woman named “Best Chef in America” by the James Beard Foundation, and in 1997, received the organization’s Humanitarian Award. Her other numerous honors include being co-recipient, with Kofi Annan, of the Global Environmental Citizen Award from Harvard Medical School in 2008, receiving Bon Appetit magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, and being named to the French Legion of Honor in 2009.

More From Alice

Parents’ Romance & Example
Waters describes her parents' great love for one another, despite their wildly opposed politics, and the noble example they set.

Mortgaging the House for My Dream
Waters recalls her parents' support when her life took an unexpected turn towards opening her restaurant.

Sweeping Floors
Waters believes that passion, not money, should be one's guide in designing a career and a life.

The Farmers' Market
It's not just the sublime produce that keeps Waters devoted to farmers' markets.

Engineering Balance
Waters discusses how she created a radically different system at Chez Panisse to give her staff a shot at flexibilty and family life.

Married to the Restaurant
The first five years of Chez Panisse consumed all of Waters's time and made her realize that work and pleasure had to be one in the same.

Childhood Garden
Waters harkens back to her mother's garden and earliest food memories.