Alice didn’t know what she wanted. So she did what a lot of people do. She went to college. She enrolled at the University California at Santa Barbara. Imagine all your California stereotypes, bad and good, that’s Santa Barbara.
But Santa Barbara didn’t fit Alice. She transferred to another state school. Classes there didn’t fit her much either. Why study when you can see the world? So, that’s what she did.
Alice enrolled to study abroad a semester. She went to France. In one book on her story the author writes, "The dreary classrooms of the Sorbonne versus a joyous immersion in French cuisine in the sparkling, spotless dining rooms of Paris's restaurants - for Alice it was an easy choice."
She frolicked across France. She met strangers, saw new things, and ate like medieval royalty. In her own book Alice writes:
"But I got the whole French aesthetic, from beginning to end. What those thick curtains looked like, what the fruit bowl looked like, how the cheese was presented, how it was put on the shelves, how the baguettes twisted. The shapes, the colored, the styles. Everything in Paris was magical to me."
It wasn’t just Paris. The countryside was the “real introduction to food.”
Returning to the states, Alice continued to cook. She’d cook for friends - a lot of friends. She dated one guy who was a filmmaker. At his premiers, meetings, and parties she cooked. After years of informal practice - though not two Thanksgivings ago - she opened a restaurant.
Now Alice, knew what she wanted. She saw the French aesthetic and sourcing. She saw the simplicity in presentation as well as the timeliness of picking. Alice’s restaurant got a reputation for innovation. Pretty soon Chez Panisse was winning awards. Some say it started the slow food, all-natural, seasonal movement in the United States.
Alice Waters couldn’t have learned what she needed to know from a cooking school. In the same way Robert Rodriguez cautions filmmakers about film school, Waters might caution chefs about cooking school. Sometimes the thing you need to find isn’t in a classroom. Sometimes it’s in the French countryside.