So, like any new parent, I will take any opportunity to insert a story about my kid into a conversation. At three months old he’s abnormally interested in food, which is fairly remarkable when his first-hand experience of it is limited to milk. The kid watches people eat like it’s the most fascinating thing anyone has ever done. It will sometimes calm him down when he’s fussy. He’s transfixed by the experience of eating, even when he isn’t able to enjoy it directly.
The kid comes by it honestly though, as his mom does the same thing with books and TV about cooking. I will read about food all day every day, happily. I’m a pretty good home cook, and prolific, but I can’t just read a recipe, I need a narrative to go with it (shout out to America’s Test Kitchen for producing my platonic ideal of a cookbook) to understand why and how a recipe works. I’ve got a bookcase at home dedicated to food, learning to cook, and restaurant life.
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse was a fairly enjoyable read about the creation and evolution of the landmark California restaurant, and I was surprised that Waters – famous for farm-to-table eating years before that was a thing – was less an earth mama than a party girl whose bon vivant tendencies manifested in food by accepting only the best. I assumed that the sustainable food movement drove the restaurant’s creation, but was surprised that it was born out of hedonism.
I would have liked a few of the wild-and-crazy stories; the author seems more concerned with introducing the cooks and staff and supporting players in Chez Panisse than with sharing their stories; there are too many declarations that a thing happened and not enough descriptions of it.
That said, I got to read about food – and the descriptions of the dishes and their ingredients were as lush as I wish the narrative had been – and how can I judge someone for being so fixated on the food they forget the story? The book is a delicious meal with flat wine, but I did come for the food, after all.