Alice Waters On The First Meal She Ever Made, Biggest Breakthrough, And More

Alice Waters and Levi's Robert Hansen in their Levi's tees to benefit The Edible Schoolyard. Photo: Courtesy of Levi's

Unless you've been sleeping under a rock (or haven't read the news for over a month), you know that this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Alice Waters' ground-breaking Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. To celebrate the milestone, Levi's and Waters hosted a free and open-to-the-public Waters-crafted lunch, book signing, and debut of their t-shirt line to benefit The Edible Schoolyard Project. (See the 100% organic cotton tee designs by luminaries Sofia Coppola, Dave Eggers, and others here!). Why the collab? "Alice is a Bay Area icon and so is Levi's, so it made sense to work together," Levi's Global President Robert Hanson, sporting a Waters-designed tee, told us at the massive Maiden Lane picnic. "It's a really authentic and values-based relationship. At the core of the Levi's brand is a pioneering spirit and it's about real people. And what we love about what Alice stands for, beyond the success she's had with Chez Panisse, is her focus on food activism, the cultivation of our earth, and bringing healthy eating and culture to people globally." To hear more about all of the above from the woman herself, we got a few minutes with Waters in which she discussed whether California Cuisine really exists, her biggest breakthrough in 40 years, and the first meal she ever made herself.

You're known as the mother of California Cuisine, yet some people say that genre doesn't exist at all. What do you think?
"People say that, but for me I think cuisine needs to stand the test of time. I think we're learning how to cook in California. And I think I've graduated from Primary School, but I think there's a whole world of cooking that's just opening up as we discover ingredients to use. And we're experimenting. Maybe in some time we really will have the kind of cooking that takes the test of time. We're a very young culture."

Besides those in the Bay Area, what other food cities are exciting you right now?

"I'm really excited about different groups of young people that are between the ages of 6 and 20. They are so articulate. They are so committed. They are so globally thinking. They are so passionate about not just what they eat, but what they listen to, and more. They are really building our culture again and I'm immensely hopeful for them."

With your Edible Schoolyard Project you are very passionate about young people having hands-on experience with food. What was the first dish you ever made for yourself?
"It was probably a banana milkshake. My mother was sort of in a health food place. So I think I just added a little vanilla in there, regular milk, and banana."

You've had numerous successes over the last 40 years, but what's been your biggest milestone or breakthrough?

"Certainly the beginning of the Edible Schoolyard Project at the 25th anniversary of the restaurant. But I think it's the idea that cooking needs to be really integrated into one's life. Being a professional cook, you need to have time to think. So, the idea of giving cooks time off and having them cook in the day or the night so that they can have time with their families, that has been the greatest inspiration to the longevity of the restaurant."

A look at the free boxed lunch served up at Maiden Lane. Photo: Caitlin Flemming

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