Alice Waters on the Art of Food

I never get tired of hearing inspiration and ideas from Alice Waters.

What I Believe about Cooking
by Alice Waters

"My approach to cooking is not radical or unconventional. It may seem so because we as a nation are so removed from any real involvement with the food we buy, cook, and consume. Food should be experienced through the senses. What could be more voluptuous than a perfect unblemished apple right off the tree or more appealing than a briny fish straight from the sea? It is a fundamental fact that no cook, however creative and capable, can produce a dish of a quality higher than that of the raw ingredients.

"Finding the best food sometimes seems complicated, but there is nothing very mysterious about it, nor is it something only restaurants can do. You only need to open your eyes. When we began our search for the best tasting foods, even here amid the abundance of California, our choices were limited. However, within a short time, an assortment of people began to show up at our kitchen door. Neighbors brought us bunches of radishes, sorrel and herbs from their backyards. A few eccentric foragers would arrive from time to time with baskets of chanterelles and morels, buckets of Pacific mussels, blackberries from the hills, and fish just hours out of the sea. All these beautiful foods were here, just waiting to be discovered. If possible, plant a garden yourself, and above all, patronize your local farmers market. There is no better place to find the best produce of the season—and usually at a good price, too. Always explore your garden and go to the market before your decide what to cook. Plan your menu around what you find there. Select produce that looks freshly harvested and at its peak—food that looks alive.

"When I cook, I usually stand at my kitchen table. I may pick a bunch of thyme and lay it on the table; then I wander about the kitchen gathering up all the fresh ingredients I can find. I look at each foodstuff carefully, examining it with a critical eye and concentrating in such a way that I begin to make associations. While this method may appear chaotic to others, I do think best while holding a tomato or a leg of lamb. Sometimes I wander through the garden looking for something appealing, absorbing the bouquet of the earth and the scent of the fresh herbs. Sometimes I butterfly my way through cookbooks, quickly flipping the pages and absorbing a myriad of ideas about a particular food or concept. You can use these recipes and adapt them to your regional ingredients. Flexibility is an essential component of good cooking. In the early stages of my culinary pursuits, I cooked as I had seen cooking done in France. I copied some of the more traditional cooks, and I stayed within the bounds they had laid out so carefully because I didn’t yet trust myself. I found that with time and experience, their fundamental principles had become a part of my nature, and I began to understand why they had done certain things in a particular way. It was then that I could begin to develop a different and more personal style based on the ingredients available to me here in California.

"We all cook differently. My style of cooking involves combining ingredients that harmonize because of their quality, freshness, aroma and flavor. But learn to trust your own instincts and don’t be fooled into believing that all the “gourmet” equipment and utensils are vital. To begin with, the terms “gourmet” or “gourmet cooking” have all the wrong associations for me: they somehow seem to imply that one is more interested in the gleaming copper pans than in what one is cooking, and certainly more impressed by them than the food itself. Strangely, some of the best times to cook are those occasions when you are faced with virtually nothing in terms of equipment—you must make do, improvise, and focus primarily on the food itself. So you may gather rosemary branches from the yard and use them to skewer the meat before you put in on to the charcoal grill. If you do, you will have learned something fundamental about food, unrestricted and unhampered by equipment.

"When people come to the restaurant, I want to insist that they eat in a certain way, try new thing, and take time with the food. I opened a restaurant so that everybody could come and eat. Remember that the final goal is to nourish and nurture those who gather at your table. And it is there, at the table, that I have found the greatest satisfaction and sense of accomplishment."

Excerpted from "The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook"
Copyright 1982 (Random House)

Buon appetito!
copyright 2009 Alisa Barry

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