Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution

Overview

The first authorized biography of "the mother of American cooking" (The New York Times)

This adventurous book charts the origins of the local "market cooking" culture that we all savor today. When Francophile Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971, few Americans were familiar with goat cheese, cappuccino, or mesclun. But it wasn't long before Waters and her motley coterie of dreamers inspired a new culinary standard incorporating ethics, politics, and the ...

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Overview

The first authorized biography of "the mother of American cooking" (The New York Times)

This adventurous book charts the origins of the local "market cooking" culture that we all savor today. When Francophile Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971, few Americans were familiar with goat cheese, cappuccino, or mesclun. But it wasn't long before Waters and her motley coterie of dreamers inspired a new culinary standard incorporating ethics, politics, and the conviction that the best-grown food is also the tastiest. Based on unprecedented access to Waters and her inner circle, this is a truly delicious rags-to-riches saga.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bibliophiles have books about books; gourmets have books about cooks. Thomas McNamee's richly anecdotal Alice Waters and Chez Panisse re-creates the unlikely story of a Chatham, New Jersey, girl who made good. A 1965 summer trip to Brittany converted this transplanted Californian into a zealous believer in French cuisine and the possibilities of fresh local ingredients. Waters's Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley was not only successful; it generated a food revolution and the rise of California cuisine. McNamee leavens his appreciation of Waters with a keen sense of how circumstances and even accidents helped facilitate this major change in American eating habits. Delicious dish; delightful read.
Patrick Kuh
The story has never been so completely told before. But then, no writer was ever given the access to Waters that McNamee enjoyed, and she comes across in these pages as quirky and passionate, by turns exasperating and challenging — in short, a fully rounded person. McNamee’s cleareyed assessment avoids the usual platitudes about California cuisine and shows how one individual with an understanding of food can carve out a personal identity and at the same time make culinary history.
— The New York Times
Susan Salter Reynolds
What [McNamee] does beautifully is capture the spirit of the restaurant and its spiritual growth, as well as its place in American culture.
Los Angeles Times
Irene Sax
This immensely readable book ... is remarkably unlike the typical, breathlessly laudatory authorized biography, thanks to McNamee's rounded and convincing portrait of a controversial figure in American cooking.
Saveur
Karola Saekel
McNamee, an erudite journalist, essayist, poet and literary critic, paints a particularly vivid picture of this enfant terrible of the kitchen. But he also lays out the whole tableau of Chez Panisse, one peopled with an alternately brilliant, dedicated, madcap and/or stoned lot of characters who percolated through Alice-land, each in his or her own way changing the landscape just a bit.
San Francisco Chronicle
USA Today
[A] scrumptious, tonguewagging and thoughtful new biography.... [McNamee] supplies enough savory ideas and spicy details to satiate most foodies and perhaps inspire a new generation of "eco-gastronomes.
Paul Laskin
A wonderfully entertaining, gossipy glimpse inside a kitchen that continues to surprise and delight.
Seattle Times
Tom Cooper
Though much has been written about her, "Alice Waters and Chez Panisse" promises to be the definitive work on the life and career of this enigmatic and remarkable woman for years to come.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
J. M. Hirsch
The book offers a fascinating glimpse of some of the people who started what would become the megalithic natural foods movement.
Associated Press
Los Angeles Times
Charming. . . . What [McNamee] does beautifully is capture the spirit of the restaurant and its spiritual growth, as well as its place in American culture.
San Francisco Chronicle
McNamee, an erudite journalist, essayist, poet, and literary critic, paints a particularly vivid picture of this enfant terrible of the kitchen.
The New York Times Book Review
Careering, chaotic, and ultimately inspiring . . . McNamee's clear-eyed assessment avoids the usual platitudes about California cuisine and shows how one individual with an understanding of food can carve out a personal identity and at the same time make culinary history.
The Seattle Times
A wonderfully entertaining, gossipy glimpse inside a kitchen that continues to surprise and delight.
Saveur
A rounded and convincing portrait of a controversial figure in American cooking.
Publishers Weekly

Talk about dish: McNamee's book is a gossipy history of the famed restaurant and a biography of the individual behind its three-decade rise from humble beginnings to international renown. Alice Waters was a young, single American woman with strong, confident sense and vision but little experience in the restaurant business when she moved to Berkeley in the 1960s. She loved food and cooking, and dreamed of opening a restaurant; her passion and enthusiasm eventually produced a location, a crew and a clientele. The book chronicles the following decades with extensive detail from a behind-the-scenes viewpoint, going from stovetop to bedroom, from opening night right up through the restaurant's recent 35th anniversary. Larger-than-life personalities abound, but the primary focus is Waters, whose success occasionally comes across as attributable to accidents and other people as often as design. The author researched restaurant archives and interviewed dozens of willing subjects with Waters's approval, and the result is a mélange of reverential biography with restaurant and food history. Sidebars scattered throughout the text provide additional anecdotes and insight into Waters's favorite dishes. Serious foodies will devour this memoir. B&w photos. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Tales of the California chef who helped change the world of food. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It was hard to get a decent meal in America before 1971. Alice Waters helped change all that. Not single-handedly, of course. But Waters, in France for a semester abroad in 1965, had an awakening: Like Julia Child, whose My Life in France (2000) McNamee (The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone, 1997) nicely bookends, she learned to eat simple food that was fresh and well-chosen. She came home disillusioned with the monstrous cuisine of her native land. "I wanted hot baguettes in the morning, and apricot jam, and cafe au lait in bowls, and I wanted a cafe to hang out in the afternoon, and I wanted civilized meals, and I wanted to wear French clothes," she recalls. She set out for Berkeley, where she absorbed radical ideas and mind-altering substances and opened a restaurant-cum-commune whose inaugural meal, in 1971, was a nice pate, duck with olives, a plum tart and coffee. It cost $3.95, expensive at the time but nothing like the tariff today. Chez Panisse, named after a French film character, was instantly successful, though Waters, as McNamee clearly shows, wasn't the most scrupulous businesswoman. She hired people who thought it might be cool to cook or bake or wait tables, and she watched huge amounts of inventory-especially wine-walk out the door. She refused to dress the staff up in tuxedos and such or impose much discipline on a difficult but brilliant bunch, and her stubbornness nearly proved fatal to the restaurant several times. Even when she took on partners with an eye to imposing budgetary reason, she did what she liked: "No matter what the legal papers said, Chez Panisse, from day one, was Alice's, to be operated, populated, decorated, redecorated, reconceived, fussed over,fiddled with, and loved as Alice saw fit." Amazingly, as McNamee chronicles, the place survived, and thrived, and Waters-likable on every page, if perhaps a touch scattered-helped change the way Americans ate. A great pleasure for foodies, chronicling an unlikely revolution.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594201158
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/22/2007
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas McNamee's work has appeared in Audubon, The New Yorker, Life, Natural History, High Country News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Saveur, and a number of literary journals.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 3 of 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    Alice Waters would be better known than Julia Child

    Alice Waters would be better known than Julia Child if only she'd had a television show. I'd watch it -- she seems like a fascinating person. I grew up eating Wonder Bread, frozen vegetables, and jello, but started eating much better as a young adult. I came away wondering why I hadn't known who Alice was until now. This book makes the evolution of American cuisine very immediate and entertaining. We should thank her for the availability of organic, fresh food.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2009

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    Posted January 25, 2010

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