In her new book, “The Art of Simple Cooking,” legendary chef Alice Waters writes about her passion for using the freshest seasonal ingredients around to create the most delicious meals, and shares her simple but delicious recipes. Here's an excerpt:
My delicious revolution began when, young and naïve, I started a restaurant and went looking for good-tasting food to cook. I was trying to find ingredients like the ones I had loved when I was a student in France: simple things like lettuces, and green beans, and bread. I was searching for flavor, not philosophy, but what I found was that the people who were growing the tastiest food were organic farmers in my own backyard, small farmers and ranchers within a radius of a hundred miles or so of the restaurant who were planting heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables and harvesting them at their peak. What was revolutionary about this was being able to buy directly from the source and not being limited to what I could find at the supermarket.
When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is. This is what we’ve learned at Chez Panisse after years of sourcing, preparing, and tasting food. Food tastes naturally delicious when it has been grown with care, harvested at the right moment, and brought to us immediately, direct from the producer. But food like this is not just the privilege of a restaurant like ours. The same local producers sell the same fresh food down the street, at the farmers market. And anyone can buy it.
When I started shopping at farmers markets, one of the best things about the experience was meeting farmers and learning from them — and influencing them, too, by asking if they could grow vegetables and fruits that had almost disappeared from commerce. After years of this weekly connection, I realized that I had become dependent on a family of friends — and they were dependent on me. By choosing to buy food grown locally and sustainably, in ways that are healthy and humane, I had woven myself into a community that cares about the same things. As a community, we share not only a commitment to protect our natural resources, but an appreciation for the value of food itself, a love for its taste and beauty and the deep pleasure it can bring by connecting us to time and place, the seasons, and the cycle of nature.
Good cooking is no mystery. You don’t need years of culinary training, or rare and costly foodstuffs, or an encyclopedic knowledge of world cuisines. You need only your own five senses. You need good ingredients, too, of course, but in order to choose and prepare them, you need to experience them fully. It’s the many dimensions of sensual experience that make cooking so satisfying. You never stop learning.
This book is for everyone who wants to learn to cook, or to become a better cook. The first part is a series of chapters that review the basics of simple food, beginning with how to choose fresh ingredients and stock a pantry and how to decide what to cook. The chapters that follow focus on essential cooking techniques, with detailed explanations of the whys and wherefores and simple model recipes. By cooking your way through these lessons, tasting and learning from your successes (and your mistakes), you will get to know some fundamental techniques by heart and you won’t have to look them up again. This will enable you to cook with ease and confidence, inspired by recipes — rather than being ruled by them — and free to enjoy the sheer pleasure of preparing and sharing simple food with your friends and family. In the second half of the book you will find more recipes in the same format, chosen because they are easily made once you are familiar with the techniques set forth in the lessons.
Eat locally and sustainably.
Learn where your food comes from and how it is produced. Seek out a diverse variety of vegetables and fruits from small, local producers who take care of the land. Buy eggs, meat, and fish from producers whose practices are organic, humane, and environmentally sound.
Choose food in season. Even where the growing season is short, organic gardening and farming can extend it: Greens can be grown in cold frames and greenhouses, and there are always local foods that can be stored, dried, and canned for the winter months. Eating seasonally inspires your menus, gives you a sense of time and place, and rewards you with the most flavorful food.
Shop at farmers markets.
Farmers markets create communities that value diversity, honesty, seasonality, locality, sustainability, and beauty. Get to know the people who grow your food. Think of yourself as a partner with the farmers, learning from them and working with them.
Plant a garden.
It is deeply satisfying to eat food you have grown yourself, in your own backyard or in a community garden. Even a pot of herbs on your windowsill can transform your cooking and connect you to the changing seasons, as can foraging for wild foods and harvesting fruit from farms that allow you to pick your own. Learn what the edible landscape has to offer.
Conserve, compost, and recycle.
Take your own basket to the market. Reuse whatever packaging you can. Keep a compost bucket nearby when you cook to recycle kitchen scraps. The more you conserve, the less you waste, the better you feel.
Cook simply, engaging all your senses.
Plan uncomplicated meals. Let things taste of what they are. Enjoy cooking as a sensory pleasure: touch, listen, watch, smell, and, above all, taste. Taste as you go. Keep tasting and keep practicing and discovering.
Include your family and friends, and especially children. When children grow, cook, and serve food, they want to eat it. The hands-on experience of gardening and cooking teaches children the value and pleasure of good food almost effortlessly.
No matter how modest the meal, create a special place to sit down together, and set the table with care and respect. Savor the ritual of the table. Mealtime is a time for empathy and generosity, a time to nourish and communicate.
Remember food is precious.
Good food can only come from good ingredients. Its proper price includes the cost of preserving the environment and paying fairly for the labor of the people who produce it. Food should never be taken for granted.
Excerpted from “The Art of Simple Foods: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution” by Alice Waters.