On February 22, 2016 the library’s cookbook club met for dinner with Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution and The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden. The first book was published in 2007 and the follow-up book was published in 2013, both by Clarkson Potter Publishers.
Only months earlier, our group cooked from the books of two former Chez Panisse restaurant chefs, Deborah Madison and David Lebovitz. So most of us were familiar with the concepts of seasonal fresh cooking that Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) would bring forth in these two books.
Alice Waters was born in Chatham, New Jersey in 1944. While growing up, her parents did tend a vegetable garden, but it wasn’t until she spent a year as an exchange student in Paris that she stuck to the idea of using only fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Alice opened her restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971 after traveling around London, Turkey, and France to acquire her culinary training. In 1980 she opened Chez Panisse Cafe just upstairs from Chez Panisse.
Known for her California cuisine, which is a type of fusion cooking and using the best quality, seasonal ingredients, Alice is the author/contributor to over 30 books and has been a mentor and influence to many popular chefs today.
In 1992, Alice was named “Best Chef in America” by the James Beard Foundation, she was the first woman to win the award. She then went on to become a 2014 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama, for her commitment to food activism and her integration of gardening, cooking and education. A well known food activist, Alice created the Edible Schoolyard program at a middle school in Berkeley and serves as a public policy advocate for school lunch reform.
The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution is composed of “Part I: Starting from Scratch” which consists of lessons and foundation recipes. Chapters are named by the type of food or preparation to be learned, eg: salads, broth and soup, rice, slow cooking, cookies and cake. Here you will learn about the basic tenets of simple cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients and how to stock your pantry and essential equipment.
“Part 2: At the Table” gets down to the recipes and again gives us the basics: sauces, pasta, vegetables, poultry, desserts. It was remarked at the club meeting to how Alice presents her recipes. Instead of having to continuously refer back to a list of ingredients, the recipe lists the ingredients as you add them. It was agreed that we all liked this presentation style.
One of Alice’s basic food tenets is, “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” p. 7.
The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden was a bit harder for our group to find recipes to make in the middle of February in Rhode Island. This book’s focus is the kitchen garden. Part 1 offers recipes and the chapter names are poetic, like “Tender Leaves” for lettuce and salad greens; “Crisp Stalks” for fennel, celery, asparagus, and rhubarb; “Meandering Vines” for cucumbers, melons, and squash; “Just-Picked Berries” for strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and more.
Part 2 is about planting the new kitchen garden including a primer on soil health, preparing the beds, growing healthy plants, harvesting, and a chapter on varieties of fruit in the garden.
Both books are devoid of glossy food photos, but they do have beautiful hand drawn illustrations by Patricia Curtan. She is an illustrator, designer, and printmaker who has created special occasion menus for Chez Panisse for several decades. Menus for Chez Panisse was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2012. She has also illustrated Chez Panisse Fruit and Chez Panisse Vegetables.
Club Rating (books combined): 3.9
“Recipes are , as advertised, fairly simple. Flavors are fresh and bright. Serving sizes seem to be modest.” -M.H.
“Browsed through all the recipes, but got all wrapped up in Alice Water’s intros and explanations–absolutely loved it!” – K.M.
“If you live in California, great! However, in Rhode Island in February I didn’t find it very interesting. Also a very slanted cookbook–not for everyone.” -E.T.
“Pretty good–simplistic directions. I liked the seasonal index and how it’s done by ingredients.” -L.W.
“Enjoyed the cookbook–at this stage in my life it is just how I cook, fresh veggies and my imagination.” -C.P.
“I think if you live in California and have access to all of these ingredients for many more months than we do, it would be more interesting. Each recipe in II had something in it that most of us don’t have, even experienced and varied cooks.” -T.H.
12 out of 15 club reviewers stated that they would recommend these cookbooks to a friend. 10 out of 15 club reviewers were familiar with Alice Waters before picking up this cookbook.
Alice lives in Berkeley, California in a one and a half story bungalow near UC Berkeley. Her daughter Fanny lives in London, but regularly returns home.
chicken legs braised with tomatoes, onions, and garlic p. 133 (v.1)
beef stew p. 136 (v. 1)
goat cheese souffle p. 170 (v. 1)
onion tart p. 177 (v.1)
eggplant caviar p. 218 (v.1)
stuffed eggs p. 219 (v.1)
moroccan carrot salad with ginger p. 246 (v.1)
caponata p.304 & tapenade p.247 (v.1)
turnip and turnip greens soup p. 255 (v.1)
fusilli with tomato sauce, eggplant, and ricotta salata p. 266 (v.1)
onion custard pie p. 282 (v. 1)
zucchini ragout with bacon and tomato p. 326 (v. 1)
italian meatballs p. 353 (v.1)
cranberry upside down cake p.369 (v.1)
cat’s-tongue cookies p. 381 (v.1)
eggplant canapes p.169 (v.2)
sweet and spicy peppers pizza p. 178 (v.2)
broccoli rabe and ricotta pancakes p.213 (v.2)
orange cauliflower salad with fried capers & rocket p. 237 (v. 2)