Albright: All right. Welcome. Wow! What a great day. And a packed room. Not surprisingly.
Good morning everyone. I’m Mary Beth Albright; I’m the Food Anchor here at The Washington Post, and I am very pleased today to be joined by two of the food world’s biggest names, undeniably— José Andrés and Alice Waters.
To those watching online or to those in the room, we will be taking questions for Alice and for José on Twitter. Please tweet those questions to using the hashtag #FoodForThought, which you see right behind us.
Okay, so, Alice Waters is the author if this new memoir, and it is called Coming to My Senses, but I think that the book is really mesmerizing because of its subtitle, which is The Making of a Counterculture Cook. And we will talk a lot about the counterculture today, and we will talk about food as a tool for change, which both of our chefs here know a little bit about. And we’ll talk about her 46-year-old restaurant in Berkeley, California—Chez Panisse—which has been at the forefront of the organic and local and sustainable food movement, and she is, by any account, a titan of the industry.
And another titan of the industry is here, a chef who continues the tradition of using food as a tool for change—José Andrés—who is the owner of the 27-restaurant Think Food Group, who returned yesterday from Puerto Rico, [APPLAUSE] where his nonprofit World Central Kitchen was on the ground for one full month, serving an island that is still 75% without power since Hurricane Maria.
And it all started with a quote, with a tweet, on September 24th, and it read: Does anyone in D.C. have a satellite phone I can borrow? Kind of urgent.
That was José Andrés’ tweet, and he was on the first commercial flight to Puerto Rico, and in the month that he was there he and his troops, as of yesterday, delivered two million meals. [APPLAUSE] And that is more than the Red Cross, and that is to the most remote areas of Puerto Rico, and this was by boat and over collapsed roads, and to people without food and water, and used school kitchens, food trucks, and Puerto Rico’s largest stadium, while many have criticized the federal government’s response.
And so, José, I’m going to start with a question for you. On October 1st you sent a series of many tweets saying what you would do if you were Donald Trump: “If I were Donald Trump, I would stop attacking the media”; “If I were Donald Trump, I would not attack a leader that works nonstop for her people”;—meaning the San Juan mayor—and, “If I were Donald Trump, I would be in Puerto Rico to lead no more than two days after the disaster.”
So, now we’re at Washington Post Live, and we’re talking about the making of counterculture cooks, the use of food as a tool for change, and the President might right now be watching. We know he’s a fan of social media. And so [LAUGHTER], so, there is a camera right over here and I’m wondering [LAUGHTER]—I’m not sure I think that’s a call to arms, the international symbol.
I’m wondering if you could look at the camera and say whatever is in your heart to the President of the United States?
Andrés: Wow. I don’t think we have to say anything to one person. I think we have to keep all of us talking between us. The Constitution of America, which I really love, doesn’t say “I the person,” it says “we the people.” [APPLAUSE] And what I know is that my faith in humanity has multiplied by 10, watching people that had nothing, that had no hope, that had electricity, no water. Just to see the happiness in their faces, how they came together to be “we the people,” all for one, one for all, barely complaining, just making the best of what they had.
And, probably the reason I’m in Puerto Rico and I show up in other hurricanes and other earthquakes is precisely because the person I’m here for today, which is Alice. People like her—especially her—and a few others, if people like me go to things like this and try to be culminating of change, it’s because people like her—a woman like her—began doing what nobody thought was possible. And she didn’t do it by planning. She didn’t do it by talking. She did it by action.
In Puerto Rico, the only thing we did was, we began cooking. We didn’t plan. We didn’t meet. We began cooking. And we delivered one meal at the time. What Alice 47 years ago began doing—she began cooking. And this tells you the message that I—by actions, you change the world. By talking, you learn English. [LAUGHTER]
So, I thank Alice, because she’s been this person that I think in people like me—she planted the seed of let’s make things happen. And she deserves any round of applause every single second that we can, because she made people like and thousands and hundreds of thousands of others to rally behind her, behind the simplicity of changing the world one plate at a time. And for that, Alice, we love you forever and ever. [APPLAUSE]
Albright: So, Alice, coming of age in the counterculture in 1960s Berkeley, you write in your book that the ethos of that time is morality, empathy, frugality, love of nature, and love of children. And you also write that when the dominant culture behaves immorally, you begin to feel betrayed. So, what I’m wondering is, you’ve heard the news in 2017. Do you feel that it’s time for a counterculture revival? And do you see that happening through food?
Waters: Absolutely, I see it happening. And I think I’ve always been part of the counterculture, because I really didn’t believe what the government was telling us about Viet Nam, about what’s happening with civil rights. And I just was inspired by the free speech movement in Berkeley. I arrived in Berkeley in 1964, and I heard Mario Savio speak. And he stood up on top of this car in his suit with his tie, and he talked about important it is when something is immoral you need to demonstrate against it. You have to protest.
But, his protest was so peaceful and so joining us together, that we were powerful because we gathered together and we—I mean, I wasn’t brave enough to sit in, and be arrested, I am sad to say. I wasn’t. I hope I will be now able to do this.
Andrés: You were arrested?
Waters: No, I wasn’t arrested, but many friends were arrested. I was just—I was afraid. But I heard what was being said, that we, if we gathered together and we believed, that we could change the world. And I’ve never lost that.
Albright: Well, there are many types of bravery other than just being arrested, and I will have to say, there’s a lot of bravery in your book, and your book is dedicated to Mario because of the work that he did in the Free Speech Movement.
And José, I wanted to ask you—for those of us who weren’t able to follow your twitter feed while you were over in Puerto Rico—there was a photo that I think is really emblematic of this kind of issue of the counterculture. Can you tell us a little bit about this photo? And talk about what things were like on the ground for people in rural areas. You look like it might be hard to speak about this.
Andrés: No, it’s not hard. I’m a little bit emotional, that’s all. This is in Loíza, 30 minutes west of San Juan, by the water. And this is a community that is kind of Caribbean and Afro-American, a poor community, somehow forgotten when the things go well. Imagine now. And these two girls who were there—that I’m ashamed I forgot their names, because I’m like Dory. [LAUGHTER]
Every time we go, we still have 10 food trucks. Those are stories that one day will be told—amazing, those food trucks getting everywhere where others were not getting to. And we delivered this with one of the food trucks. And these two girls would be always there, not waiting for a plate of food, but they would never eat until the last person on the line ate. And they were there just helping with the food, the water. And there was me who was thanking them for the amazing service they were doing. And this only shows you how in these moments the best of people shows up.
And we had many kids. I had this girl, Lola, that she was making sandwiches for two weeks in a row, eight hours a day, nonstop, while her father and mother we working on one of the other food trucks. And kids like them showed me that world is going to be great. We only need to make sure we keep empowering them to be everything we want them to be, and especially girls.
Alice Waters couldn’t be a man. She had to be a woman [LAUGHTER] because [APPLAUSE] I mean that in the most deep respect to her, that I do believe we need to be putting more women at the very top of the decisions that there are going to be, improving the world in the years to come. I’ve never seen more soft-spoken leaders making things happen one community at a time in Kenya, in Haiti, in Puerto Rico by not just imposing their power-ness and their big boys, but use smart, gentle solutions, where everybody can rally around, like Alice.
Alice never called her schoolyard project “Alice Waters Farm.” She doesn’t even put her face in any of his books. I feel ashamed in the first one—my face was on my cover. She’s not trying to say me, me, me, me, me, and forget you. What she did over all these years was the big belief that she was almost like the shepherd behind the sheep and the lamb. She was making sure that they keep moving forward, that they go to the good places, to the water places, to the food places. She’s in the back. She’s even—almost you don’t notice her. But somehow, somehow it keeps getting bigger and bigger and more people keep joining her dream. That makes it our dream. That is the power of what Alice has done in a super-silent, humble way.
It was never about her; it was about the idea that was for the people, for “we the people.” And that’s why, again, I am in awe of being with her here on this stage, because really, she showed me, and I think she’s shown many of us, that the true leader is the one that is not noticed.
Albright: Well, yeah, let’s talk about that, because I mean, Alice, your Edible Schoolyard project was born from—and you write about this in the book—that you are actually a certified international Montessori teacher. Yes. And so, that’s where the Edible Schoolyard sort of came from, was this love of—as we were saying—love of empathy, love of teaching, love of children, love of nature. And would you like to—maybe some people in the audience and people who are watching online don’t know about the Edible Schoolyard project, so maybe you’d like to give a little overview of it, and also tell us what it is, and also the influence of your Mother, because your Mother was such a large person in your life, and was an activist who instilled that in you.
Waters: Well, she never was a real activist. She was someone, though, who believed in—what would I like to say?—in the big picture of democracy. She really believed that nobody should have too much money, that we should all share it, and if you made over a certain amount, you should give it all back. And, she was—she voted for Adlai Stevenson, back in the fifties, and she made me wear an Adlai Stevenson button to school, and I was the only third grader that had an Adlai Stevenson button on, and I was just pushed aside when the Ike songs came on.
Albright: You have the Ike songs in here, that are actually written in the book.
Waters: You remember those.
Albright: Yeah, they’re terrible.
Waters: But, when I had a daughter, I started to think about the big picture of the world, and that was—really, 34 years ago—she is now an adult. But, at the time when I had her, I just thought we couldn’t be an island unto ourselves there in Berkeley. What was happening beyond that was inevitably going to affect the way that we lived in Berkeley, and I thought about my teaching, and how public education is our last truly democratic institution. Nearly every child goes to school. And I thought, that’s the place to reach them, is when they’re very little, and bring them into a really positive relationship to food and to nature.
And all of my Montessori training just sort of came back to me. And she believed in educating the whole child, and educating the senses, because those are our pathways into our minds. Our touch, our taste, our smell, our seeing, our listening. And if our senses are closed down, we are not able to connect with the world around us. And I really believe that our senses have been closed down, in the way that Montessori talked about her work in the slums of Naples and in India.
But ours have been closed down by the fast food culture that we live in. Everything is meant to be fast, cheap, and easy, and we are not touching, and we are not tasking, and we’re not gathering at the table anymore.
Albright: And yet we’re telling our children to wait for things.
Waters: Exactly. And, when 85% of the kids in this country don’t have one meal with their family, we’re losing our humanity, our connection with each other, our sharing of food. And those two little girls that you were with in Puerto Rico—the idea that you should wait until everybody has food before you eat—I mean, that’s an idea that comes from eating around the table, and knowing how much food there is, and being able to share with everybody who’s there, and saying please and thank you.
And, even though there wasn’t anything tasty on my parents’ table, [LAUGHTER] I was very unfortunate there. But they were Irish, and English in descent. [LAUGHTER]
Waters: We didn’t have—
Andrés: They were getting you ready.
Waters: But, I mean, we did have a victory garden in the backyard, and during the war my parents started that. And so we had divine corn and tomatoes that I have loved all my life, and they dressed me as the Queen of the Garden for a costume contest. And I had an asparagus skirt, a lettuce leaf top. I had a crown of strawberries, peppers, bracelets, and anklets, and as I tell people, I think I remembered that I won. [LAUGHTER]
Andrés: And you never took that custom ever—play that one well.
Waters: I’m still wearing it, yeah.
Albright: It’s interesting, because, can we have a moment here, because we’re sitting in a room full of people who—I’m assuming—love food, love the food that you make. And I’m wondering, we’re talking about the importance of food, and there’s been such a populist movement in this country—right?—with politics. Is there a populist movement in this country coming for food? Are we worried that good food is getting priced out of how people can afford it? Or—
Waters: Well, I really feel like there is a movement. It’s kind of underground, which I love that we haven’t really shown ourselves yet. But, a lot of young people around the country are becoming farmers. And they’re growing a great diversity of fruits and vegetables. And they’re selling them directly to restaurants. And so, if the experience that I’ve had at Chez Panisse, over these years has been to develop a network, and to actually support one farm—Bob Cannard—completely.
So, whatever he grows we buy, but we always—he gives us a bill at the end of the year, and whatever it cost we are willing to pay. And he feels like can really do the work without worrying. And it’s the reason that I’m hoping that in schools, that they could become the support team for the people who are growing food—ranching, and fishing—that the schools would buy from them. And without a middleman, to buy directly from those people who are doing that work for all of us for the future of this planet.
And so, I’m very confident that if we were to have school-supported agriculture, not only with these kids eating the food that’s good for them, but it would really help to change agriculture and could change it overnight. And so that’s kind of the master plan.
Andrés: And we know you have one, but we don’t have time to go in deepness through your super-important question, but I think in the food for thought is, how you are in Haiti or in Puerto Rico—and how is it possible that a can of soda—Coca-Cola or Pepsi—is cheaper than a bottle of water? Just think about it for a second. And I love my rum and Coke, I’m not going to lie to you.
But it is food for thought that we need to be thinking about. So, we have water that comes for free from the sky, but somehow water becomes more expensive than Coke itself. I don’t get it. I still don’t get it. We are all part of the problem, because we all keep paying for the water more expensive than Coke. So, it’s kind of these conundrums that we need to be answering.
For me, I think with food in order for everybody to take it seriously, because they can be saying, like, “We are foodies and we like to pay more for our green peas, because our green peas are better,” but we know that food is becoming a very expensive thing in the United States, and a lot of people cannot afford at the same time some vegetables that sometimes Alice or I or you guys are able to buy. Going to farmers markets today, will show you how expensive it can be, buying those foods. But at the same time, we need to keep those farmers alive.
I think when you go to places like Iowa and you see that half of the crops are soy and half are corn, and the corn is not even used to feed humanity, but now, becomes fuel. And now where the USDA secretary is also the energy secretary. All this is fascinating. But at the end of the day—the same way unfortunately September 11 happened, what we never even thought was going to happen—do we have our next September 11, by one day being with so very few types of seeds that they are the mass quantity of foods we are providing to America. And one day we are going to have the biggest September 11 by a pest or something we don’t foresee. One day, all those crops that on paper are feeding America and humanity—they’re not going to be any longer. This could be happening. This is a national security issue.
So, when we ask for diversity of vegetables and fruits and the small farmers and middle farmers and bigger farmers, it’s because humanity’s future depends on it, not because we want to have 120 vegetables to put in our risotto so we can charge you a hundred dollars a plate. It’s deeper than that. It’s by this diversity, this huge amount of diversity that we are so lucky to have from mother earth, is what is going to give us the security that all humanity is going to forever and ever, ever keep succeeding. That’s why this is so important.
Albright: And I think, going back to something you were saying about—
Andrés: Yeah, you can clap. [APPLAUSE]
We have translator on the number 1 number; just put it on the phone. That’s a joke. That side understands my English more than this side. [LAUGHTER] But that happens.
Albright: I think it’s so interesting what you were saying about the water versus the Coke, too, because there was a controversy over what FEMA was bringing to the island of Puerto Rico versus what you were serving. You were serving fresh fruits and saying we would never serve chips, and what FEMA was bringing in were Cheez-Its, chocolate puddings, Vienna sausages, and the Mayor of San Juan was calling FEMA out for it. And so, I do think that there’s an interesting comparison between those two things. Luckily, you have signed a $10 million contract with FEMA, as I understand, to serve meals—good meals, hot meals—for the next two weeks. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Andrés: I don’t even know what I signed with FEMA.
Albright: Yeah, okay. I can imagine you’ve had a busy month.
Andrés: We were many millions in the red; we were spending almost three, four hundred thousand dollars a day; and the only thing we cared about was feeding people.
Andrés: So, when they say FEMA has a contract, it almost looks very wrong. You know, it’s like at one moment they even said, “We’ll hired José Andrés,” and I’m like, “What?” [LAUGHTER] “You what? You did what?” I’m there on my own dime; I pay for my own rum sours and my own cigars and live in my own hotel room.
So, talking about that—I mean, the water issue, which is fascinating—Puerto Rico had, has a hundred oasis, so sweet water places all across the island. Many of them were active. Many of them were working. But because of those two or three people that were in charge of that at FEMA, the issue was not lack of water. The issue was lack of communication. Fake News 101. When somebody goes and says all the water wells are infected, and on top of that you don’t have EPA there first thing in the morning testing every water source in the island—Puerto Rico needed 1 million gallons a day. They had the water in the island. The only thing they had to be doing, making sure that all the generators were functioning in these water places, which was not hard to do, making sure that water was tested and making sure that the leaders were communicating on time to the people that the water was okay to be drinkable by all. This was not information that was being delivered. Nobody wanted to be touching the water. We had to be bringing one million gallons a day from outside that was not happening. The island was going thirsty. Four weeks ago I saw a woman use—that didn’t have a glass of decent water in 48 hours—and this was all around the island in 110 humidity.
So, those problems are man-created. Here, luckily for us, we have a water that is more than water, it’s a ‘waters’, that’s bringing us those ideas for 47 years of all those problems are actually low-hanging fruit opportunities. What happened in Puerto Rico and in other parts of the world sometimes is created by nature. But the next crisis always happens, created by humanity.
We need to start making sure that humans—we are the service of taking care of humans, and not becoming the problem, instead of bringing the true solution one glass of water at a time, in this case.
Albright: Well, this brings me to an interesting conversation—[APPLAUSE]
Andrés: Are you done?
Albright: You could go ahead and speak if you’d like.
Waters: You know, I just wanted to tell you a small water story. I was at a university—the University of Indiana at Bloomington—and they wanted to put in water fountains on the campus, so that everybody could have water for free. But it seems that one of those big corporations—dare I name it? Nestles—had given funds to the university. And, along with that came a contract for bottled water. And they would not let the university put in water fountains, because it would cut into their bottled water business.
So, this is what’s happening. And I go many places and visit many enlightened universities around the country, but these corporations have really locked in their contracts, and sweetened it with a donation for a building or an endowment or something. And it’s very difficult for the university to take the risk. And I’m just waiting for one—I hope the University of California can do this, because they have a food and agriculture initiative that they want to achieve by 2025, that they are going to—but they’re going to have to go up against that big money. And it always comes down to that.
José, I don’t know whether you’ve—I’m sure experienced that, that these companies buy the wells. They buy the water rights to the areas. I’m surprised they haven’t bought them for all of Puerto Rico. And then they basically sell if back to us.
Albright: Well, one of the interesting things, when we were having our discussion last week in advance of our Washington Post Live discussion, and we were talking about Puerto Rico, you had mentioned also the wildfires in northern California, and that you were believing that there might be a relationship that you wanted to talk about there, and you had been affected by the wildfires.
Waters: It’s very fresh in my mind, like this is for you. It’s incredibly emotional, because the chef from the restaurant lost her house and her winery, just burnt completely to the ground. But the way that everybody’s responding in Napa and all around the area feels a little bit like what’s happening in Puerto Rico. It’s an emergency and everybody’s doing whatever he or she can do. And it’s beautiful to see that, to feel that, restaurants are really ready to go up to Napa to feed people and everybody’s come together. And it feels like a war zone up there. I mean, it’s something very, very shocking to all of us. I’m–[APPLAUSE]
Albright: Well, we can talk about the restaurant, now that we’re talking about it and how it was born out of the counterculture, and how Chez Panisse got started 46 years ago, which is pretty extraordinary for a restaurant like Chez Panisse that has really started a movement and has stayed at the top of its game and stayed—I hate this word in the restaurant world, but I’m going to use it anymore—stayed relevant for 46 years, and in a building that you bought eventually for $28,000 in Berkeley, which you can’t buy a parking space in Berkeley for $28,000 these days but—
Waters: I wish I had bought a lot more real estate.
Albright: Yeah, no kidding. [LAUGHTER]
Andrés: Yeah [OVERLAPPING] capitalism has done well for you. [LAUGHTER]
Albright: And it was a restaurant born out of the counterculture, because it was born out of you feeding a bunch of people at your house who were living communally and out of the spirit of generosity, which is why the subtitle of this is The Making of a Counterculture Cook. So, I’d love to hear more about the start of that restaurant and you feeding the people that you were writing the newspaper column for called “Alice’s Restaurant,” which was you with your crystal ball. Before you had a restaurant, you were writing a column called “Alice’s Restaurant.” So, talk to us about that.
Waters: Well, that was a newspaper called the San Francisco Express Times and lots of the people who were writing for it just came over to our house for dinner, and my friend David was a calligrapher and also a printer. And he was engaged with all of these other people who were writing about music and art, but they all thought that maybe they should have something about food. And David said he’d be happy to calligraph it and we ended up calling it “Alice’s Restaurant,” of course, after the song, right? And I was spending all my money on feeding these folks, these friends, and I thought, “Well, maybe I should just have a little restaurant and then they could pay.” [LAUGHTER]
Well, the only problem was that they—no, I couldn’t see them anymore because I was so busy in the kitchen, but it just didn’t work out, but I hired a lot of them to work with me in the restaurant, and none of us was a professional. We were all sort of literary gastronomes.
Andrés: How many of you have been to Chez Panisse? Shame on the rest. [LAUGHTER] What’s wrong with you people? I still remember the first time I went. My daughter is 18 now, so 18-and-a-half years ago my wife had me there in San Francisco because she was pregnant with my daughter Carlotta, with pine nuts, and using my shoe to open the pine nuts for 24 hours, and she’s like, “I need food. I need good food.” And we were in Berkeley, no reservation, no space, but I bought my way in and at the end, we ate in the amazing place she has above her Chez Panisse. How do you call the one above? Chez Panisse, too?
Waters: In the café.
Andrés: Yeah, the café. I couldn’t get in the café.
Waters: It’s not a café. It’s more like a—
Andrés: So I use my child and my pregnant wife. [LAUGHTER] And I’m not going to lie to you— and especially European chefs—even the Spanish; we’re even more pretentious than the French. [LAUGHTER] I’m like, “Alice Waters this, Alice Waters that.” I already was a super big fan of Nora Pouillon here, which has been always our big champion in the sea. And we love her. But when I went there, I couldn’t believe what I saw in front of me. We ate an amazing menu of these amazing pizzas coming from the wood stone oven and many amazing dishes. But you know the moment I just realized the power of this woman? We had for dessert dates and clementines. And they put me a clementine that I had to peel myself? [LAUGHTER] And I was like—
Waters: A kishu tangerine.
Andrés: A tangerine, a kishu tangerine. [LAUGHTER] And the dates—they were dates. [LAUGHTER]
Waters: Barhi dates.
Andrés: When I smelled that tangerine, it was beyond a revelation, because we have from where I come from in Spain, very good stuff in the citrus world. That one was unbelievable. To this day, we keep talking about it, and I’ve been going back to some of those farms to make sure that I can buy at least—forget my restaurants—for my home. And that date, I’ve never eaten a date like the one I got. It was a date I cannot still describe. So, when you see that somebody’s given you a clementine unpeeled in a plate and charging you a lot of money for it. [LAUGHTER] And dates. It’s a moment that you ask yourself what cooking means. What’s the meaning of cooking?
But what she was exactly that. This amazing way to be bringing together people, and farmers, and an idea that simplicity becomes the most sophisticated, complicated thing at the same time. And to this day, every time I have now a tangerine, a kishu, I begin remembering that moment. That is the moment I saw the power of Alice Waters and the power of the movement she created by only giving importance to the things everybody was overlooking. Amazing things, partnering with amazing farmers, and making sure that we the people together, we kept feeding the people.
Since then I remember still when she came to my restaurant. She was coming and already we kind of interacted a few times here and there around Planet America and Planet World, but she was come in too highly and I remember I was like, “Shit, shit, she’s coming.” And I’d go to the kitchen and it was like, “Where are those asparagus from?” [LAUGHTER] And they are like, “Chile.” I’m like, “Chile? Shit!” LAUGHTER] “Okay, let’s tell her they are from Maryland like José.” [LAUGHTER] “José, it’s November.” Like, “Okay, I have a greenhouse that produces asparagus in November.” I created fake news, people. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE]
Waters: But I didn’t believe him.
Andrés: We didn’t lie to her, but that was a conversation.
Albright: You can’t fool Alice Waters.
Andrés: Yeah, you know, Pequino peppers were from Spain. The [INDISCERNIBLE 00:41:15] was from [INDISCERNIBLE] I was like, “She’s coming into the restaurant.” And I’m like, “You know the champagne you sell in your restaurant comes from France ain’t local and ain’t seasonal?” I just fired back at her from just the beginning, but the amazing thing, we keep talking about the amazing contributions this woman has had in many people like us, especially as I say, that made us think about those things, and made us, even if even we are never perfect, at least you tried to reach for that perfection and find the right balance. And what she did more than anybody is she made people like me think. And every time we serve a plate of food, we think. And she was not only feeding our bodies, but feeding our souls and feeding our need to ask the right questions and try to get the best possible answers.
So by all having that amazing information, we can be feeding America and this planet in a better way. That’s her real power and that’s her real biggest contribution over these last 47, 48 years. [APPLAUSE]
Albright: Oh, I thought you were doing a mic drop you were just like, “And that’s it [LAUGHTER] and now I’m out.” [LAUGHTER] No, it was extraordinary. It’s true, and one of the great things that I love from this book is that, Alice, you mentioned that you were counterculture, but you could never be a hippie, because you could never get down with their idea of food. [LAUGHTER] That their ideas of food were too uncivilized. It was like, “Oh, they were just putting vegetables in a pot with rice and I just couldn’t eat with them.” That you were too much of a European centralist to ever be a hippie.
Water: Carrots with the skin on? [LAUGHTER]
Albright: Yeah, I mean, your love of food would not allow you to be a hippie, and you would walk into—this is one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read—you would walk into a natural food— [LAUGHTER]
Andrés: I’m still so scared of her when she—
Albright: You would walk into natural food restaurant and it would smell like vitamin powder and incense. So you’d just be like, “I’ve got to get the hell out of here.” It’s just hysterically funny. And to know that Alice Waters, who is like the pinnacle of food, has such a sense of humor about food is such a relief for people, I think. That’s one of the reasons I loved reading your book.
Waters: Thank you. I am very sensitive about aroma. [LAUGHTER]
Albright: So that’s another reason you couldn’t be a hippie.
Waters: True, yeah. But, I love it when you walk into a restaurant and you can smell a fire burning. Or, when a restaurant doesn’t smell good, you just sort of worry about the kitchen. [LAUGHTER] And so that’s always been a way that we sort of welcome people into the space, that we try to reach them subconsciously. Sometimes, I have to burn rosemary to make it happen, but it really predisposes people to the food that we’re serving. And I think it’s—when my daughter would come home from school, I always kind of wanted to make the chicken stock sort of happening then, so that she would feel the warmth of the house, that she would want to come into the kitchen, and be curious. And it worked like a charm to get her up in the morning. I roasted peppers right on the stove and she’d just run down the stairs and say, “Will you put those in my lunch?” And I always did.
But that’s the way that I think we have to reach children. And we use all of those techniques, if you will, the Montessori preparing of the classroom. She talks a lot about that, of making it a beautiful space for kids to be in, and they just know that they are being—that it’s for them, that the room, that the flowers—you put flowers on the table. You don’t have to say a thing. They just know, “Well, somebody cares about me.” And I think our kids really need to feel this. They’re not at home anymore. They’re not learning about the tables Their parents are both working and everybody is busy, and they’re grabbing food where they can. And so, to make a place for them—and that’s part of what we’re trying to do in the school. We’re trying to make school lunch part of academia so we can get time and focus to eat lunch together.
And so we’ve been experimenting, and we made a placemat. And the placemat is about the study of the geography of the Arabian Peninsula, because that’s what the kids are talking about in their classroom. So, we’re using the academic minutes from the geography class and it shows on there. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, although you can’t read it. But, what we’re serving them is this: we’re serving them a tabbouleh salad, a carrot soup with a little hot red pepper on it. We’re serving them hummus on a lettuce leaf. And so they’re eating the food of that place. They might be studying the Silk Road in India, and maybe you’re serving them the lentil soup or the paratha, or the yogurt—the spiced yogurt—and it’s a way that we can teach and digest that lesson in a whole different way, using all of our senses.
And this is what I’m hoping might happen in New York City, because I don’t know whether you know, José, because you weren’t in town, but de Blasio decided they were going to feed all of the students in New York City for free. All of them. [APPLAUSE] And he wants to feed them nutritionally good food, and, of course, we know that begins in the ground. Wouldn’t it be a support for the farmers in and around New York City? And I’m just hoping that we can have a conversation about school lunch being really civilized in that way and part of the academic subjects.
Albright: And I think that brings us to a great question that we have at Washington Post Live on Twitter. Jana asks, “How can we influence those who want to make health sustainable choices who may not have the resources to do so? Affordability, or access, et cetera, and it sounds like this might be a great way to do that.”
Waters: Well, certainly school, I think, is the best way because the kids bring that home to their families. But I always use the example of José, because I will buy an expensive chicken, but I know how to make three meals from that chicken for a family of four, and I hear José knows how to make six. [LAUGHTER] Now,this is about cooking. This is about learning how to cook affordably. And if you grow your own food, of course, that’s the very best way—to grow it—and during World War II, we grew it on the front lawns of the post offices.
Andrés: Yeah, those things made of chicken was back when the crisis began a few years ago, and they were coming from The Today Show and, “Can you cook for some Valentine’s menu?” I’m like, “Do you see my body? I don’t know.” [LAUGHTER] I’m not just some Valentine menu chef type of yours called “Yada,” that she does better than me on that. And I say that with the ultimate respect, but me, I’m like, “If I’m going to go on TV, let me go to do things that are meaningful.” And so I gave them the idea of like, “Well, we have this crisis. Let’s show people how you can maximize a chicken and not make one meal, but make six out of it.” I saw my mother doing it.
I said, “Let me just share this simple information,” and that’s what we did. I’m talking about the school, if we should be feeding children for free or not and some people are going to say, “Oh, you Socialist, oh you,” at the end, it’s so funny because it’s all the same thing. If the New York School System feeds every children, it’s going to be benefitting the local economy in ways we don’t understand. You’re going to be hiring more people. You’re going to be doing it if you are smart even cheaper when things really happen by the volume that you can be achieving.
But the question here is very simple. Do we want to invest as a community, as a country, in the health of our children? Or do we want to throw money at the problem in fixing them when they’re 60-years-old and unhealthy?
And when we explain that problem in such a simple way, I will believe that we want to invest more money into the solution, which is keeping every American healthy, versus throwing money at the problem—with all due respect to my friend doctors and hospitals and all this—then throw money fighting diabetes, fighting cancers that may be related to the food they ate when they were younger. This is a very simple thing.
Who do we want to be? Creators of solutions? Or, to try to just throw money at the problem that we will never, ever be able to fix? I am the type of guy that believes investing into solutions is much more fascinating, helps the economies bottom-up, and keeps the community, the country we all love, as we want it: healthy, young communities, that they are going to be keep forever helping the economy, be moving forward, and all keep working towards that horizon of a country that is healthy and that is smart, but keeping investing in what is important, the health and the well-being of every single American. If you are with me, that’s what you should be going forward. That’s what this woman has been doing. [APPLAUSE]
Waters: Well said. That’s why you invited him.
Albright: Yes. We only have a few minutes remaining, and in those few minutes remaining, I would like to talk about Chez Panisse and where it is now, and how it got there. And Alice writes in her book about the beginnings of Chez Panisse, that it started from her visit to France, and it says, “When I got back from France, I wanted to eat like the French, and the only way I could get those flavors again was to make the dishes myself. No restaurants in Berkeley and San Francisco were cooking that way. Or if they were, I couldn’t afford them. I had a certain taste in mind and I really wanted to get the food there. It all went back to France. I had been awakened to taste there and I wanted everybody to be awakened the way I had been. I was convinced I could win people over if I fed them the right food, if I got them to taste something they’d never had before.”
So Alice, what do people taste at Chez Panisse that they’ve never had before?
Waters: We started, we had just one menu downstairs, and actually, we still just have one menu downstairs. So, we have the café upstairs with an à la carte menu so that our friends can come with their children and eat affordably. But downstairs, we have this fixed-price menu, and I can’t believe that we change it every single night. Yes, maybe we’ve done this duck thousands of times, but every time, we rethink it, and we try to come up with different kinds of things to serve with it. And this meal is really choreographed by us to bring people to taste things that they haven’t tasted before.
But it’s very much a collaboration, the way it happens. It’s almost like a little bit of a jazz combo that you have a group of people in the kitchen that are all talented in different ways. And we come together and we try to make something that’s greater than the sum of the parts. And I think it has been a kind of word of mouth that’s happened over the years. We don’t write the recipes down. Maybe a little bit in pastry because you have to be more precise. But you’re trying to come to it with respect for what you had found in the market that day, and there’s always new things that are surprising, and it’s the way we work.
Albright: And in that way, it’s more like a dinner party.
Waters: It is.
Albright: The same way you started it out.
Waters: It is like that and, of course, it’s in a house, so that helps to reinforce that feeling that you’re coming into somebody’s home to have a meal. But that French kind of way of service is very, very important to me, and the salad is kind of always there. Maybe not after the main dish, but there’s a little on every plate, and I think that it sort of refreshes the pallet. It’s very, very important to me.
Albright: José, what do you want people to taste that they’ve never tasted before?
Andrés: Well, before I answer this question, I’m only going to say that the only I’m taught by Alice, I never understood why she keeps saying the French way and the Spanish way? [LAUGHTER] I mean, you’re in San Francisco. I’d say, my ancestor helped build that. [LAUGHTER] Éric Ripert is halfway Spanish. [INDISCERNIBLE] was halfway Spanish. So okay, fake news.
Waters: You cook paella in the fireside. [LAUGHTER] We do cook paella in the fireplace.
Andrés: So, you know what I want people to eat? Alice and me, we want you to start thinking when you are about to eat. I want you to put your nose in the farmer’s market in those amazing peaches coming from those random farms, and smell those peaches. I want you to get that apple and feel it with your hands, how hard it is, and then how juicy and how amazing it is. I always say that the piece of a steak is the most boring thing in the history of mankind. But we keep going for the steak. When you put it in your mouth and besides those five seconds of pleasure, it’s the closest thing to sex. The next 50 seconds, you look there like a lion munching something like this tasteless and nonsense, but you feel like so empowered because you are like a lion. And sometimes, we are more like a butterfly.
I grew this honey now. I have two beehives in my house and my daughters help every year a couple of times a year. I want you to put the finger in that honey and for one second, close the eyes and dream you are that butterfly. That is what I want you to do, to understand that you don’t need to look for the most sophisticated dish. Even chefs like us, sometimes we look for those dishes. But sometimes the simplicity of really listening to the ingredients, listening to the fruits and the vegetables, the amazing story they want to tell you, but that the noise doesn’t allow us to understand. Try to squeeze the flavor. But to do that, you have to listen; and if you listen, the ingredients are going to speak back to you in ways you never imagined.
That’s what Alice has been telling us all along, and we are listening every day more and more to her teachings. Listen, because there’s a story behind every one of those ingredients, those smells, those flavors, and with the stories we learn from them, then thanks to the guidance of people like Alice, yes, we can have an opportunity to improve the world we live in one flavor at a time, by only listening to them. [APPLAUSE]
Waters: Beautiful. You know, I was just going to say, that’s why I call it a delicious revolution. This is not hard to do. This is something that once you get connected, you’re always there, you’re always there, and these kids get connected so quickly. They’re longing for nature. They’re longing for that experience, just as José described it, beautiful.
Andrés: A sea urchin from Hokkaido.
Andrés: I’m a sea urchin from Hokkaido. Go to Hokkaido, go like I went with my daughter; grab the sea urchin; open them right there on the boat with your nose and eat the sea urchin. And then, wow, you will understand life. [LAUGHTER]
Albright: I have to say, you’re not the actual chef at Chez Panisse, which surprises some people, and what I thought was so interesting in your book was that you said that when you were a kid, you played baseball and you loved being the pitcher, because you were always in the game and you always had control over the game. And so, I think that really resonated with me because that sort of seems like your role at Chez Panisse is that you’re always in the game, and you always have to know what’s going on in the game, and you as a young girl as a pitcher, that role really stood out in my mind. Right?
Andrés: And there is no coach that will dare to take that pitcher out of the game. They will be in so much trouble.
Albright: Speaking of which, how were they watching the World Series in Puerto Rico? Because baseball is huge down there.
Andrés: The same thing I answered FEMA when they told me I was getting food. I say, “Well, I go to a shop, a big company, I open an account, I order food, I pay, and they send me food.” Oh, wow. [LAUGHTER] So don’t take it that way, but having a generator, connecting electricity, having maybe a satellite here or two. And you’re watching the game.
Albright: I mean, were there people like in a town square watching or—
Andrés: Yeah, like in Cataño, the mayor, who has been one of the great leaders, we’ve been sending him food forever. The biggest problems of the world have very simple solutions. We only have certain leaders that they seem to believe that they are bigger leaders by making us believe that the problem is so big that only they can fix them. I don’t need leaders like that, that stop us from fixing the problems. We only need people like us that just make it happen. It is the truth, and I endorse this message. [LAUGHTER]
Albright: The camera is still going if you want to say something.
Andrés: I’m very smart. [LAUGHTER] I left school when I was 14. I never went to university, but I’m smart, too. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE]
Albright: I think we’ll leave it at that.
Andrés: I am talking to everybody.
Albright: I understand, I understand. There just happens to be a camera in the room.
Okay, so, So Coming to My Senses is a phenomenal book. It is honest and funny and authentic and accessible and there are fantastic stories in this. I am going to tell you if you want to know how Alice Waters mistakenly stumbled onto the set of The Godfather; if you want to know how she was on a plane that Louie Armstrong and his band was riding, and they just started playing; if you want to know how she punched a drummer in the face for mistreating her musician sister; and if you want to know how she got kicked out of her sorority for drinking too much— [LAUGHTER]
These books will be on sale outside and Alice will be sticking around to sign them for a little while, so they’re for purchase by Politics and Prose right out in the hallway, and you can watch highlights from today’s events. The whole thing is a highlight, right?
Andrés: And don’t try to make a reservation in her restaurant because you will not be able.
Waters: You’re all welcome to come.
Andrés: But you can try, but you’re not going to get it.
Albright: You can watch highlights from today’s event and find out about upcoming Washington Post Live programs at Washingtonpostlive.com. I’m Mary Beth Albright, the Food Anchor here at Washington Post. Thank you all very much for coming. [APPLAUSE]