Saturday, May 17, 2014

California Dreaming: Why Alice Waters is so famous for what someone else does!

You take your first step into Chez Panisse in Berkeley California and you realize that nothing you thought about this Mecca to Farm to Table prepared you for the meal you will have there. While incredible and delicious it is the mere simplicity of the food and indeed the quality of the ingredients that makes Chez Panisse an iconic dining experience.

As I traveled through California this last trip I was again struck by the amazing quality and variety of produce available to Californians. It makes the New Yorker head reel to look at the variety and quality which even with our many green markets we never see because of the climate! My friend's in San Diego got a package from their local CO.OP. which made my poor shopping baskets at the supermarkets in New York pale in comparison.

The meal at Chez Panisse was simple enough. The starter a salad of warmed blanched asparagus, roasted morel mushrooms, prosciutto, baby rocket ( Arugula) and a brilliantly lemony dressing. The Main a "Stew" of roasted lamb loin and fresh peas and carrots with a risotto cake. And dessert fresh Strawberries and an ice cream profitole. Delicious, fresh and simple simple simple. But what made it so good were the ingredients. That's the magic os Chez Panisse. Simple preparation of deliciously fresh fresh fresh food. No spice profile, no ridiculous preparations, no smoke and mirrors, just amazing ingredients.

So for a moment during and after the meal I sat and pondered how Alice Waters has become an icon in the food world. I have read her books. No super fancy tricks there, just straight forward preparations. Elegant for sure. High end definitely. But simply letting food speak for itself while enhancing it's natural qualities with spices and preparations seemed genius to me somehow. I somehow wondered how this was so different and how we as a country had gotten away from this knowledge as we slid into a abyss of Applebee's and TGI Friday's food preparations soaked in salt and oil and lacking any finesse. Not to say those places are all bad. But I will say kinda bad. They certainly represent a commercial food engine using frozen foods and commissary driven preparations to deliver standards and a consistent product. But is it good, well if I am honest in a word, no. Is it all bad, no but it's rarely good or good for you.

So Alice Waters is really famous for what some farmer does. I mean she didn't grow the food. The meat, dairy products and produce that enter her kitchens are the fruit of someone else's labor. But what she and her chefs do is prepare them in such a way that no one can miss the impact their quality has. And she is famous for championing this trend. That's her real fame. Reminding us that good food is better in every way for us. Just like out forefathers knew, but never thought about because it was always there.

So I have some new inspiration for my own cooking at home. Not that I will pretend that I don't enjoy convenience foods and that I will never eat at Red Lobster again ( cause I will ) but at least in more ways and at more times I want to be aware of cooking things that speak for themselves and find simpler preparations.

I have no recipe today just these thoughts. As we progress towards the summer and grilling season I will endeavor to find some fresh recipes lighter and built around natural flavors. See you then.

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