Alice Waters' Theater of Taste
22 Oct 04
The audience at the lunchtime Theater of Taste Workshop were treated to a menu of Jerusalem artichoke soup, with a coulis of cardoons, mint and garlic, prepared by Alice Waters, Vice-President of Slow Food International of the reknown Chez Panisse Restaurant in California. She was assisted by Russell Moore, also of Chez Panisse. The soup was followed by braised rabbit with local greens. All the animal was used- the bones to make a stock, the belly meat was served with a salad and sausages were made and flavoured with fennel..
The menu was based on ingredients of the local area and the wine provided by Castello di Banfi. The kitchen was decorated with vegetables of superb quality, provided by a local producer. Waters is known for her steadfast support of organic produce: “I didn’t start out looking purely for organic food- I was looking for taste. After 10 years I ended up on the doorstep of organic producers.”
The quality of the source ingredient is the indisputable foundation of all good cooking: “I have decided that 90% of cooking is about finding the right ingredients. Quality comes with purity,” she said. How should vegetables be selected at the market place? “I choose the vegetables that are looking straight back at me!”
Waters is adamant about working along with the season and the location. “You should have to go to certain places to eat certain things” she emphasises. At her 70 cover restaurant in California, the menu is changed constantly, according to the season, the week, the day. There are two chefs, (there is no ‘head-chef’) who work three days each in the kitchen- on the other days they source their produce on the local market, adapting their menu accordingly. “We get everyone involved in chopping the vegetables” she said- “it keeps everyone directly involved and in touch with the seasons”. Waters’ cooking philosophy is not simply a reaction against fast food culture, it is a reaction against a culture which takes food for granted and a culture where “food is produced by people who don’t care about it’s quality.” The famous markets of London, Paris and Rome are often a disappointment to her- “The vegetables look good, but when you ask the person selling them where the produce is from, you find out it has come from all over the world- much of it is not grown locally at all.”
After cooking the meal, Waters invited her vegetable supplier up on to the platform- “Just as Carlo said yesterday, [Carlo Petrini, President of Slow] Food) we need to become co-producers. We need to take care of the community of people who produce food if we want to be able to cook and enjoy food like this in the future.”