Alice in Marketland

This video of Alice Waters shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket is unbelievable; like watching Jimi Hendrix buy a guitar or Picasso in a paint store. This is a genius in her element, surrounded by the very thing that inspires her. Look how delighted she is by that striped eggplant, by the taste of that tiny peach. And look how people adore her, how they treat her like a goddess, which, in many ways, she is. The accompanying article by Kim Severson doesn’t gush, though: it’s level-headed and appreciative without being fawning. That’s why she writes for The New York Times. Me, on the other hand, I’m not afraid to fawn: that plate assembled at the end makes me want to become a farmer just so my vegetables had the chance to get the Alice Waters treatment. Fresh produce never looked so good.

[There’s also a lively debate about Alice on the Diner’s Journal blog; I left a comment, let’s see if you can find it.]

9 comments

  1. Thank you! She was delightful to watch and absorb. I will watch this over and over to try to replicate her vegetable platter. Can’t wait til Saturday to move through my farmer’s market ala Alice. Thanks, Adam. Welcome back, Craig!(Quad Cities, Iowa – Whitey’s Vanilla Ice Cream)

  2. Oh my god, she’s brilliant! Have you read her book, Adam? I am making my way through a million books right now (just finished yours) but I might have to stop and read all of hers!

  3. Haha! I saw that video and loved it. She is hilariously adorable, and I’m going to meet her in Chicago in a couple weeks! I’m uber excited!

  4. Adam

    Your comment regarding class hit the mark. Financial status plays a huge role in how you eat. It is cheaper to eat processed/canned/frozen food. A meal of fresh fruit, vegis, fish, and some interesting condiments from Whole Foods, would equal the monthly food budget of many families. I’m glad you commented on that.

  5. You of course, were the gushing first Adam, as apposed to the mildly potty mouthed second. We love your gushing. Don’t stop. It’s why we love you.

    I will be the mean post. Grrr.

    I don’t care for Alice Waters. The Chez Panisse book I love most, Chez Panisse Cooking, is more Paul Bertoli then it is her.

    People are baffled I didn’t care for Chez Panisse when I ate there (2002). It was to be one of the highlights of my honeymoon. The way people talk it up, I’d expected some sort of religious experience. However, my wife and I remember things next door from Cesar far more vividly than we do from Chez.

    I will admit, I recall that Ellie had Insalata Caprese as one course. I know I ate tuna with some sort of lemon sauce. But, I think I only remember them because I felt like I should take something away. The thing I remember most though, is that they didn’t have a liquor license.

    Twenty-Five years ago she was sourcing ingredients so different it might have been as special as I’d hoped. But now, all over the country, you can find people sourcing high quality local produce and meats just as she does. They do it just as lovingly, and more importantly, without the attitude of privilege.

    So I’ll leave you with this to think over: Is she really the Grandmother of the locavore movement, or is she merely the most well publicized?

  6. Actually, Bill, I think the answer is yes. Alice Waters really IS the godmother of the locavore movement, at least in this country. The meal you praise at Cesar was created by chefs who trained in Chez Panisse’s kitchens, as are good meals all over the country and particularly in California — at JoJo, at Lucques, at Zuni Cafe.

    I also wonder about “the attitude of privilege” you remark upon. Few people have actually put their money and energy where their mouths are, so to speak, in the same way that Alice Waters has. She’s worked very hard to reform school lunches for inner-city kids in Berkeley, with replications of her model beginning to take off in New Orleans and other parts of the country as well. But I am sorry you didn’t like your meal at Chez Panisse — I loved mine.

    I loved seeing the video of Alice in NY, at “our” Greenmarket, talking to “our” farmers — hey! I know those people! I buy produce from them! She could bring her own olive oil and cook lunch in my kitchen any time…

  7. Hi Julie. If you in fact read this, I did realize the owners of Cesar were former Chez employees.

    I guess my point of privilege is this: How much did all that produce she bought cost?

    Because I can afford produce like that, I too buy it. However, it’s out of reach for most people the way the US agricultural industry is currently set up.

    My Grandmother had a huge garden from which she cooked many meals. It can’t get more local then that.

    With a love of food, people will always attempt to source the freshest local items. You see this globally as you pointed out. It just so happens that Waters came on board while America’s culinary history was in a major state of improvement. People would have found these foods regardless of her because they were grown in America all along, and because they are good.

    Anyway, either way, your greenmarket is amazing.. It was a highlight of a NYC vacation last November. Even then there was awesome stuff to be had like the greatest cider I’ve ever tasted. The highlight of the video though, was spotting Jonathan from Bobolink. That guy is truly inspiring.

    Thanks for the constructive response by the way, my opinion is not popular, and at the end of the day, it’s better to break bread and discuss most of this crap in person. The internet can be such a tough place to share one’s point in the matter in which it was intended.

  8. Don’t worry Bill, I share your questions about the whole worship Alice phenomenon, too. When I lived in Berkeley, I would see her frequently…she really is a doll! But I loved Paul Bertoli’s food much more (his place in Oakland was phenomenal; I adored the food and the ambiance, and he was working on things that Alice wasn’t at the time, in terms of cured meats, balsamic vinegars, etc.). As for some of Alice’s progeny, I was always completely underwhelmed at Cafe Fanny…the combinations of ingredients frequently didn’t work, and the prices were sky high for what you got.

    But god bless Alice for being part of that whole Berkeley crowd, along with Kermit Lynch, etc., that did their best to bring attention to sourcing top quality ingredients. Just wish it wasn’t so reserved to those with big bank accounts.

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