Interview

Taste was the first thing…

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The pioneer in regional cuisine and sustainable philosophy in the culinary world of California, and member of our Advisory Board, Alice Waters, tells us what she expects from Stadt Land Food

Her earliest memories are of the garden. That was in New Jersey in the 1950s, when lunch was dominated by convenience foods and budget worries. But there were fresh tomatoes growing in the backyard. Today, the ingredients used in Alice Waters’s restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley don’t come from much further away either. Oftentimes they hail from fields fertilized only with the manure of the horses that plow them.
Alice Waters, born in 1944, is hailed as the originator of California Cuisine. It’s thanks to her that slow food caught on 
in the US. After stays in Provence and Brittany, she began cooking radically locally and slowly. She let things grow, and didn’t put anything on the menu that she couldn’t find in the valleys of California or the in ocean at her door. Alice Waters was one of the first contemporary people for whom cooking also meant gardening. For whom a meal does not begin with groceries, but with seeds.
Alice Waters has been a Jury President of the Berlinale and a Vice President of Slow Food International. She began a revolution that she describes quite aptly as “delicious”.

When you were a child, what was your favorite dish?
Grilled corn on the cob, in the summer, from my parents’ garden.

What was the first major change in your consumer behavior to have a more sustainable life style?
Taste was the first thing to really change for me – that was what led me to organic and local food. When I went to France in 1965, I tasted the real thing for the first time: The ripe fraises des bois gathered in the woods, the hot baguette fresh from the oven, oysters right from the water. It woke me up.

What challenge seems more important to you: to get people to support local food systems or to get people to buy any kind of food and cook it themselves? We observe, that while more and more people go to markets, they tend to cook less and less at home…
I think it’s most important to support local, sustainable food systems, which support the farmers taking care of the land, who give us the delicious food we cook, and who are helping to preserve the planet. No farms, no food to cook with. It is that simple.

Which other profession was on the plate when you decided to move towards this career?
Before I started Chez Panisse, I was teaching young children at a Montessori school. I am still a tremendous admirer of Maria Montessori’s holistic, hands-on pedagogy, and it was an inspiration for the way we try to engage children’s senses in the garden and the kitchen at The Edible Schoolyard.

Other than your own restaurant, which other restaurant concept is appealing and inspiring to you?
I love the concept of a restaurant where you are growing everything right outside the back door, or up on the roof—where you could pick all your produce yourself. What a beautiful idea!

If you were asked to give your place among TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most important people to someone else, who would it be?
I’d give it to Carlo Petrini!

How do you think we can get more women into the next “TIME Gods of Cooking”-list?
When restaurants are set up differently to truly accommodate women chefs, and when men and women truly share the responsibilities of running a household, I think that will happen. Unfortunately, it is still very hard to be a chef and raise a family.

What convinced you to support our festival?
The festival’s message of reclaiming and celebrating local, sustainable food culture needs to be spread in the biggest possible way. And the people I most admire are also board members of the festival!

What do you expect from our festival?
I hope that everyone will be won over by the inspiring talks and events, and that it will inspire a global food and farming revolution!

Interview by Kathrin Kuna and Kavita Meelu