Meet & Eat: Alice Waters
Author's Note: In preparation for a week's worth of wonderful recipes from Alice Waters' wonderful new book of cooking basics, In the Green Kitchen we sat down for a little chat with Waters about the Slow Food event that inspired the book, some of Waters' favorite recipes from the book and tips for greening your own kitchen. If you have your owns questions for Waters you can sign up for an online conversation about In the Green Kitchen taking place this upcoming Wednesday.
Can you tell us a little about how the concept of The Green Kitchen came about? My kitchen is green, both in my home and in my restaurant. And the philosophy behind the way I cook there is green. I wanted that to be an accessible philosophy and to share it with people. The book idea came out of the pop-up experiment kitchen at Slow Food Nation where I asked my friends and cooks who I admire from around the country, indeed the world, to join me in demonstrating a simple cooking technique for the audience at the event. People responded so positively that we decided to turn it into a book and now, almost two years later, we have In the Green Kitchen.
What was The Green Kitchen equipped with? Very little. A table. A cast iron pan. A mortar and pestle. Knives. Cutting board. A hot plate. A few pots. And a compost bucket. You don't need fancy machines—the techniques in this book are meant to be done by hand.
Why is this pared down way of cooking greener? Simple techniques rely on pure and seasonal ingredients. Better ingredients means local, organic ones, which are greener. Cooking from scratch means less waste.
Who were some of your favorite guests in In the Green Kitchen and what did they prepare? They were all so wonderful. My friend Niloufer Ichaporia, for example, has a passion for greens. Or David Chang's pickles—they're a wonderful way to preserve the peak of the season all year long.
What are some of the skills and techniques in the book that you feel are most useful to home cooks? Fanny, my daughter, demonstrates the simple but important skill of drying lettuce—it's such an under-appreciated art. Once you experience washing and drying lettuce correctly, you realize the difference it can make—it's a pleasure. Thomas Keller also roasts a chicken. Beth Wells, café co-chef, then makes stock from the chicken. There's no waste. Once you know how to make a stock, it's one of those skills you know for the rest of your life. It can transform your cooking—you can use it as the base of soups and plenty of other things. The same is so for Angelo Garro's four techniques with eggs: he poaches, he fries, he boils, and he scrambles.
When it comes to food shopping what are your rules to live by? Wherever possible, I buy directly from the farmers. I want to know where my food comes from, how it's produced, and I want to make sure that the people involved are paid well for their work.
In the introduction to In the Green Kitchen you talk about how preparing food doesn't have to be hard work. Do you have any tips for getting those who find cooking to be a chore into the kitchen? These techniques are, without exception, incredibly simple. Their results are well worth the simple effort they require. Cooking that way takes the drudgery out of cooking. When you're working with good ingredients, good produce, they really speak for themselves. You don't need complicated recipes—these techniques simply bring out the best of what is already there.
In your opinion, how does one become a more intuitive or instinctive cook? Cooking can be a chore if you don't get to experience the creative side of it. To be creative in the kitchen, and to feel comfortable with your food and your ingredients, it is so helpful to know these simple techniques. This book isn't really about following strict, traditional recipes—once you've learned them, you won't have to constantly refer back to the measurements or the directions. They end up allowing a great deal of creativity and personal inspiration. That's when cooking becomes intuitive and instinctive.
All of the proceeds from In the Green Kitchen are going to the Chez Panisse Foundation in support of Edible Education. Would you mind telling us a little about the foundation and its work? The Chez Panisse Foundation and Edible Education are all about bringing children into a new relationship with food. If kids are growing their food and cooking their food and learning about all the things connected to a meal—culture, history, math, science, the environment—they are so much more likely to eat in a way that is healthier to themselves and to our world. We have Edible Schoolyards all around the country now and proceeds from this book will help establish more in places where they are needed.