Alice Waters has been fighting the good fight in favour of local, fresh organic food since the 1970s, when she opened the world famous Chez Panisse restuarant in Berkeley, California inspired by her trips to France as a young woman.
The chef, educator and slow food activist has since become a household name of course and for the next episode in CNN's Culinary Journeys series we join Waters on Bastille Day (14 July), when Chez Panisse hosts its annual garlic festival. We also follow Waters up to the Napa Valley, as she enjoys a spot of wine tasting.
Click the trailer for the show below and read our interview with Waters further down, where she discusses her ongoing battle against fast food culture.
Tell us about the culinary journey you decided to take?
This year we celebrated the 40th year of our annual garlic festival at Chez Panisse! We chose this event as our culinary journey because it highlights so much of what we value at the restaurant: taking care of the land, supporting organic farmers, and feeding each other in delicious and nutritious ways by bringing communities together at the table. We celebrate every year on 14 July (Bastille Day in France), with garlic featured in every dish on the menu. It reminds me of why I started the restaurant – to cook delicious food for my friends. To me it is a wonderful example of how these values all come together on one special day.
How have US eating habits changed since you opened Chez Panisse? How much work is there still to do?
It has been so wonderful for me to see the farmer’s markets multiplying across the country over the years. Having local food in our cities teaches people to eat with the seasons. And, perhaps most importantly, they foster a relationship between the customer and the farmer that changes buying practices. But there is so much work we still have to do, especially in terms of education and getting edible education into the curriculum of every school. We are approaching a time when it will be necessary for the public school systems to provide a garden and kitchen classroom in every school, in order to teach the values we all need to live on the planet together: stewardship, nourishment, and communication.
There seems to be a concerted effort to make fast food – at least appear – healthier and to remove the stigma surrounding it within the fast food industry. What are your thoughts on this?
Fast food culture has altered our way of life. Fast, cheap and easy are concepts that have permeated our culture. They are not just stigmas, they are ways we are allowing ourselves to be deceived and to think of food as a commodity and not precious. It is so important that we understand that things can be healthy and affordable, but they can never be fast or cheap. We need to make food that value’s the farmer’s precious work and the time that went into growing it.
Tell us about some of your most treasured relationships with producers.
One of the first farmers we worked with was Bob Cannard. It was actually my father who met him and understood that Bob could be someone very special to the restaurant. He has been growing food for us ever since. The restaurant absolutely would not exist without the farmers and producers – they are what we do. And it is why we started putting their names on the menus. It is one way we can speak publically about the importance of organic food.
Do you remember the exact moment you realised you wanted to work with food?
Oh yes! When I travelled to France in 1965 as an exchange student. I was not a trained chef, but I experienced a whole new relationship to food when I was there and I came home wanting to create a place where my friends could come to eat the same delicious food as I had in France.
Culinary Journeys airs on CNN International at the times below:
Thursday 22 September at 0930 BST / 1030 CET
Friday 23 September at 0430 BST / 0530 CET
Saturday 24 September at 0530 BST / 0630 CET and 1630 BST / 1730 CET
Clare Smyth, Hélène Darroze and Nieves Barrágan Mohacho are just a few of the women recognised in CODE Hospitality's annual round-up of influential women creating positive change in the industry. See the list.