It’s when I take the ingredients home, unpack them from my basket, and spread them out on the table in my kitchen – that’s when I started imagining how the ingredients relate to one another and how they can come together to make a menu. I’m improving, trying to capture a moment in time. I’m letting my senses lead me.
How about this for an opening: “First I’m at the farmer’s’ market, buying a bunch of French breakfast radishes, the purple-fringed lettuces, the spring garlic – I’m thinking about the state of the Blenheim apricots and the Santa Rosa plums.”
Hungry yet? Dreaming of a fresh salad, a loaf of crusty bread, thick, salted butter? A custardy tart with a nice fat rim of shortcrust pastry to finish?
I am. And that’s after only one page of Alice Waters’ memoir Coming To My Senses. Waters is, of course, the founder of Chez Panisse, the San Francisco restaurant that championed the locavore movement and brought a love of seasonal, organic product to America. Name a famous person and they’ve dined there. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough. I hope to be so lucky one day.
You go into this book expecting there to be a lot of food writing. And there is, spliced into the chronological tale, which starts with the stories of Waters’ mother and father, and ends with the opening of the restaurant. (Maybe she’s gearing up for a sequel?) You can tell when she’s about to launch into some mouthwatering food anecdote because everything is in italics. Settle in. Prepare yourself for descriptions of coconut sponge cake dripping in freshly-wrung coconut juice, layered with peach compote. Or how to make the perfect grilled cheese. Or the unbearable lightness of a green salad, barely dressed.
So yeah, the food stuff is great. But come for the food stuff and stay for Waters’ incredible life, which includes plenty of asides about kissing unsuitable boys, renegade ‘70s politics and some absolutely wild anecdotes about the arts community of San Francisco that she was involved in, including her once-boyfriend Tom Luddy (founder of the Telluride film festival), his mate Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor – whom Waters knows well enough to call Ellie – and the fact that they once had Jean-Luc fucking Godard over for dinner. (“He wasn’t into food – or talking.”)
Everyone had such amazing lives in the ‘70s. It’s hard to feel like anything today could top that.