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Women’s History NJ: Alice Waters

Chef Alice Waters was born in Chatham, Morris County on April 28, 1944. After living in New Jersey for several years, her family moved to California. Here, she completed her high school (Van Nuys High School in LA) and college (University of California) education. However, her bachelor’s degree is in French Cultural Studies, not culinary training.

During her time in college, Alice Waters would often visit France. She regularly went shopping for produce, learning how to prepare dishes using fresh, local ingredients. The dishes she learned to prepare were simple in concept but bursting with flavor and creativity.

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A Global Palate

Waters would then bring this newly cultivated style back to the US. In fact, she is known for spreading the idea of “market-fresh cooking” and doing as much in her dishes. She would often express how simple and rewarding it is to use local ingredients for all types of meals.

Alice Waters soon returned to Europe, training at a Montessori school in London, England. This method emphasizes the importance of hands-on activities for kids. This had a major impact on Waters; for instance, her Edible Schoolyard project teaches kids how to prepare fruit and vegetables.

Continuing on her global tour, Alice Waters then did some traveling through Turkey before going back to France. Her time in Turkey ending up changing her way of thinking about hospitality and respecting small, close-knit communities. Then she spent a year in France before returning to California.

Chef Alice Waters

Alice Waters Opens Her First Restaurant

In 1971, Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley. The eatery became an instant hit with patrons, utilizing local ingredients to create dynamic dishes. In addition, Chez Panisse boasts a number of standard menu items that reflect the current season; going so far as to offer different themes and meals six days a week (they close on Sunday).

13 years of success later, Chef Alice Waters opened Café Fanny a few blocks from Chez Panisse in 1984. (The restaurant is named after her daughter.) Though it closed in 2012, the European-style cafe served breakfast and lunch during its 28 years in service.

In 1995, Waters founded the Chez Panisse Foundation. Through this, she started the Edible Schoolyard Project at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. This one-acre garden and kitchen program was built “to create and sustain an organic garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school’s curriculum, culture, and food program.”

Kids in Edible Schoolyard Program

Books for Cooks

Throughout her career, Alice Waters has written several cookbooks. These include Chez Panisse Cooking, The Art of Simple Food (I and II), and 40 Years of Chez Panisse. She also published a memoir in 2017 titled Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook.

In total, Alice Waters has had nearly five decades of success as a renowned American chef. As Chez Panisse reaches the 50-year milestone, it remains a Berkeley hot spot. Staying true to her craft, she always uses organic ingredients for simple yet innovative dishes.

To this day, she remains active in her community and profession; even working toward extending free school meals to all public school children in the nation. Finally, the award-winning chef was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2014. Though her story is not yet over, as she continues to delight the culinary world.

Click here to find other great women from NJ in our Women’s History NJ series.

Top (Hero) Photo: © David Sifry / Wikimedia Commons
Other Photos (in Order) Courtesy:
Chez Panisse / Website
Edible Schoolyard / Website

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