Chef Alice Waters Shares Her Secrets to Cooking Fresh Food

Tips on finding, enjoying, and cooking fresh food from one of America's foremost fresh food experts, Alice Waters.


Tips on finding, enjoying, and cooking fresh food from one of America's foremost fresh food experts, Alice Waters.

Alice Waters, chef, author, and proprietor of the pioneering restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, is a leader of the movement that believes that cooking fresh food hinges on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.

Cooking fresh food is one way you can eat healthy if you are on a gluten free diet – or even if you aren’t.

Waters spoke to Nutrition Action’s David Schardt from Berkeley.

Why does it matter where we buy our food?

When you know where your food comes from, you begin to understand the importance of everything you buy and put in your mouth. Now, there are obvious health consequences to what decisions you make, but the consequences that are really profound for me are about the provenance or origin of the food.

What’s wrong with not knowing where your food came from?

You could be buying food from people who don’t care about the ecology of the land or from gigantic farms that exploit farm labor or from different parts of the world that have tainted the food. That’s why I think that every decision about where we get our food is absolutely critical.

Where does Chez Panisse get its food?

At the beginning, 40 years ago, I was really, really looking for taste. But I couldn’t find it. So we ended up growing gardens in the back of my house. And once that flavor, that just-picked, ripe fruit, came into the restaurant, it woke us up to what we needed to do.

So we found the people who had the meats, the vegetables, all the things that we wanted to buy. And we built this community of purveyors. We probably have 75 or 80 now. Some of them have just one peach tree. Others bring fruits and vegetables to the restaurant every other day from Sonoma.

Where do you buy your own food?

I shop at farmers markets. When you buy food there and you give your money to a local farmer, you’re supporting the people who are taking care of the land for the future of this planet. I feel like it’s an investment in the future. It’s supporting a way of life that’s really, really important to me.

Farmers markets are multiplying so fast across the U.S. and Canada that I believe in most big cities it’s possible now to find one open almost every day. This is the result of people wanting to cook real food, not only cooking fresh food, but ripe and tasty food.

Are farmers markets more than just about buying food?

Yes. You receive what I call a delicious education about food when you walk into one. You’re thinking seasonality, you’re meeting people who live in your community. You’re giving your money directly to the greenbelt around the city and really having a significant environmental impact. It’s the most aesthetic pleasure of my life. I go every week religiously, and I feel deprived if I’m not able to go.

Who else benefits from shopping there?

The person who is interested in a kind of simplicity in what they’re cooking. When you get a few tomatoes, they’re so tasty you don’t need to do anything to them. And it’s possible to cook a meal in 10 minutes if you’ve been to the farmers market that day.

In 1995 you helped start the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at a Berkeley middle school. What have you learned from that?

That when kids are growing and cooking fresh food themselves, they want to eat it. I’m talking about things like kale and garlic, not anything fancy. They like the empowerment, the care that’s just part of working in nature, engaging with your family, cooking a meal, and sitting around a table eating it together.

And that leads to healthier eating?

In a way, health is an outcome of living well. I think it’s hard for people to change their diets. But it’s not very hard to taste a ripe peach and want to go and get another one.

Do you shop at a local farmers market? What tips can you share about cooking fresh food from the market?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a searchable directory of farmers markets throughout the country. You can find it here.