Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Alice Waters and Me

Yesterday I threw caution to the wind and watched almost all of Alice Waters's demo in the amphitheatre. I know that my boss might not approve, but it's not every day that Alice Waters is speaking down the hall, and I wasn't about to miss it.

She's really a lovely woman, with a very strong message about organic, seasonal, local and sustainable agriculture. She stood in the demo kitchen surrounded by beautiful produce from the Union Square Greenmarket, and she made it a point to explain that everything around her was New York produce, and that it was fabulous. She thinks we have an unnecessary dependence on California produce here, and that the only advantage over there is a slightly longer warm season.

Alice opened Chez Panisse in 1971, before there was much produce to be had in Berkeley. She would literally go foraging on the side of the road, and she'd buy ducks in Chinatown. Eventually, her demand created a supply, and 34 years later, she runs one of the best restaurants in the country. She explained that she has two master chefs, and each one is paid full time but works only three days a week in the kitchen (spending two additional days at the farmers' market and working the menu). This is expensive, she says, but it makes a huge difference in the quality of the food.

We tasted some delicious treats. A farmer from New Jersey was there offering us several cheeses and some raw milk that had come from the cow that morning. It tasted strange and good. It's illegal to sell raw milk in this country, he said, but not illegal to drink it or give it away. And he said we shouldn't fear raw milk, but we should fear pasteurized milk. Anyway, we don't have much choice there.

Inspired by Alice, I'll do my best to stick to local, seasonal ingredients. This isn't always affordable, but I'll try to make weekly trips to the Greenmarket.

Last night I made my butternut squash risotto for Bianca. It wasn't as good as the first time, and it's because I didn't cook the squash enough in the first round. Make sure you taste it before you take it out of the skillet in step 1!


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