California grows about 80% of all fruits and vegetables in the United States. The Central Valley alone produces 8% of the nation's total agricultural products, the state as a whole is the 5th largest supplier of food, and agriculture turns out to be a 36.6 billion dollar industry.
Good food, in these parts, is a necessity of life. And so is a philosophy that goes beyond processed foods and space meals.
Alice Waters graduated from UC Berkeley during the turbulent sixties. Influenced by the student protests and the free speech movement, she also lived in France, traveling throughout Europe, where she gained respect for local markets, simple dishes, and hospitality.
She returned from her travels to integrate what she learned by establishing Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkeley, California that ranks as one of the 50 best in the world. Opened in 1971, the dining experience is nothing short of divine (and expensive). While an upstairs cafe has an a la carte menu, the dinner service downstairs touts a fixed menu with two seatings: 6pm and 8:30pm. Reservations are required and upon entering, warm toasted almonds sprinkled with kosher salt are served. A sommelier also wanders the room serving a half-glass aperitif.
The menu changes every night and reflects the fresh organic products locally grown. To have an on-line taste, you can bookmark the restaurant's menu. In October we sat to table for the "All Fish Menu" of:
- Fried Monterey Bay squid with shell beans, tomatoes, and basil
- Coho salmon cooked on the skin with leeks, ginger, and lime
- Grilled local swordfish with sweet onions, pine nuts, wild mushrooms, and chard
- Black Mission fig tartlet with Meyer lemon ice cream.
Bezerkely? Perhaps, but also delicious and inspired. Alice Waters continues to be an outspoken visionary. She is Vice President of the Slow Food movement, she has written eight books about cooking and food, including The Art of Simple Food, and she's pioneered the Edible Schoolyard to bring healthy food to kids. Her persistence in sending letters to the White House since 1992 even led Michelle Obama to plant an organic garden outside the White House. For much more activist projects by Alice Waters and her chefs, check out: The Edible Schoolyard, a Lunch Program for schools and OPENrestaurant, a collective of restaurant professionals in San Francisco.