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Food & Drink

Chefs We Love: Alice Waters

Chefs We Love is a Valentine's Day tribute to those who have done great work in the culinary world -- to those who inspire us to not only eat well, but to try new things in our own kitchens. With this holiday around the corner, we at Kitchen Daily felt that it was appropriate to share our love and respect for those who have most inspired and influenced our passion for cooking. See more chefs we love.

This morning I took a walk through the Union Square Greenmarket. I love to look around for inspiration whenever I feel like I have no idea what I'm cooking for dinner. Sometimes I'm just looking for a new vegetable to try or I just want to stock up on my local raw honey. I'd like to think that's it's because of people like Alice Waters that I do this routine. It's because of her that the country has taken such an interest in local and/or organic produce. As a kid, I don't ever remember seeing organic produce in the supermarkets, but now even Walmart has an organic section. All this came about because of people like Waters.

I don't think it's far-reaching to say that more than 40 years ago Waters started a revolution -- a movement for better quality food that's ultimately healthier because it's farmed honestly, without all the chemicals that go into large-scale farming -- when she opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. It's a testament to her beliefs that the restaurant has been open for so long. And it has churned out some amazing chefs who have spread California cuisine around the nation.

Just last year I had the wonderful opportunity to dine at Chez Panisse. I happened to be staying just down the street from the restaurant and on one unusually rainy night, a group of friends and I enjoyed an elegant dinner with a menu that was inspired by Julia Child. Nothing could have been more symbolic than that, because Julia opened the door for people like Waters who wanted to change the way food is seen and eaten. Alice picked up the baton and ran with it.

If you think about it, Waters didn't have to do much to get a movement going -- it was a "slow food" movement, the opposite of fast food. She didn't invent anything new. All she did was something that hadn't been done in a very long time. She went back to cooking with local, farm-fresh ingredients. We as Americans hadn't been doing that since the two world wars, when people were encouraged to plant victory gardens. Waters opened our eyes to the possibilities that could exist if we put ourselves in a position to effect change in the food system that we had gotten lazily accustomed to -- that of pre-packaged, canned, store-bought, and trucked from afar foods.

I don't mean to denigrate anyone who does eat these foods, because I myself eat them too. I can't afford to buy organic all the time. This is why some people like to accuse Waters of being elitist, that her ideas only serve the upper echelon of gourmands who can afford the expense of local and organic food. But remember, Waters is only presenting us with the option -- we're not being forced to adhere to it. It's about making baby steps, making a small effort to change the way we look at food. It does, after all, go in our bodies and it affects our health -- our lives.

Because of Alice Waters I've made changes. I frequent the farmers' markets as much as I can and I buy ingredients that I can afford. I visit local farms during the summer and buy produce and even meats. Some things are pricey but I consider it worth it because I'm making a change -- no matter how small -- that will make the difference in my health. The essence of what Waters did was make us more conscious about food, the results of which are still unfolding -- it's what we're all seeing happen now.

What do you think of Alice Waters? Leave a comment.