UC alum Alice Waters on free speech and the making of a counterculture cook
In her new memoir, “Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook,” Alice Waters revisits a broad range of experiences, including her activism as a student at UC Berkeley during the heyday of the Free Speech Movement.
“A lot was going on in Berkeley. And I really didn’t know what it was all about,” she said about her transfer to Cal from UC Santa Barbara in 1964. “I wanted to know what was going on.”
It wasn’t long until Waters joined the Free Speech Movement, which gained considerable traction under the leadership of activist Mario Savio. (Waters’ new book is dedicated in his memory — and the Free Speech Movement Café on the UC Berkeley campus was funded by a gift in honor of Savio.)
“(Savio) always seemed to see the big picture,” she said. “It wasn’t just about stopping the war in Vietnam. He was speaking about coming together and sharing values. … It was very, very important that we stood together and created this world together.”
And it was from the influence of that world that Chez Panisse was born. Not long after she graduated from UC Berkeley, the restaurant first opened its doors.
It was 1971, and she was only 27.
Waters embraced local, high-quality ingredients, cooperative relationships with farmers and, importantly, the counterculture ethos.
“We did it differently,” she said. “It was doing it differently that made it what it is.”
The restaurant went on to inspire countless restaurateurs to adopt the “farm-to-table” approach. And Waters’ influence extends beyond her “little French restaurant.” Waters has championed free, sustainable, healthy school lunches for students; the importance of an edible education; and, famously, the creation of an organic garden at the White House.