Alice Waters Biography

Environmental Activist, Chef, Activist, Educator, Journalist(1944–)
Chef, restaurateur and activist Alice Waters owns Chez Panisse. Her efforts to promote locally grown sustainable foods include the Edible Schoolyard program.

Synopsis

Chef Alice Waters was born on April 28, 1944, in Chatham, New Jersey. In 1971, she opened her own restaurant, Chez Panisse. In 1996, she started the Edible Schoolyard at a Berkley middle school, along with a program called the School Lunch Initiative. That same year, she founded the Chez Panisse Foundation, which later launched the Garden Project. In 2013, Waters co-led a chefs' petition against California fracking.

Early Years

Alice Louise Waters was born in Chatham, New Jersey, on April 28, 1944. Growing up, the future chef and restaurateur had a self-described "keen sense of taste," but rarely ate out at restaurants.

As a college student at the University of California, Berkeley, Waters broadened her palate during a semester abroad in Paris. In 1967, she graduated from Berkeley with a degree in French cultural studies. Afterward, she trained as a chef at the Montessori School in London, then spent a year in France learning French cooking technique. In France, Waters developed a passion for uniquely fresh food—coming straight from the farm to the plate.

Chef and Restaurateur

In 1971, Alice Waters and a friend, Lindsey Shere, opened a restaurant in Berkeley. Inspired by the model of a farmer's market, Chez Panisse was decades ahead of the upcoming "foodie movement," during which the American public would experience increased awareness and availability of local, eco-friendly sustainable foods.

When Waters had a baby in 1983, she hired another chef to do the cooking at Chez Panisse. Still, she remained staunchly committed to her original vision for the eatery: All of the restaurant's ingredients are purchased from local producers and suppliers. The result is a seasonal menu of farm-to-plate fresh foods that supports her community's agricultural economy while encouraging patrons to eat healthfully.

In 2007, Waters was ranked on Restaurant Magazine's "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list. A book sharing Chez Panisse's staff and customer stories, 40 Years at Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering, was published in 2011. Waters has also personally written several cookbooks since the restaurant's inception. As of 2013, Chez Panisse continues to maintain its reputation as one of the finest restaurants the world over.

Food Activist

Alice Waters's passion for healthy, locally sourced produce, combined with her concern about American obesity, inspired her to spread her message beyond the reaches of Chez Panisse's clientele. In 1996, Waters established the Edible Schoolyard Project at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. Through the program, students not only experience growing their own fruits and vegetables, they learn to cook them in a nearby classroom.

Also in 1996, Waters founded the Chez Panisse Foundation in an effort to fund additional schoolyard gardens. With the foundation's support, Waters also established a program known as the School Lunch Initiative that provides daily nutritious school lunches made from ingredients grown by students. Based on a similar principle, Waters launched the Garden Project, which supplies the San Francisco County Jail with fresh produce and offers job opportunities to ex-convicts.

Waters's humanitarian efforts also include Slow Food International, a nonprofit organization that supports local food traditions.

In September 2013, Waters and her Chez Panisse chef, Jerome Wang, actively led a chefs' petition against California fracking, with concern to its effect on agriculture. In an interview for NPR, Waters stated that 85 percent of cooking is about finding fresh, flavorful ingredients that are "grown in a place where they really thrive."

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