If you haven’t spent much time in the USA you might not instantly recognise the name Alice Waters. She is held in the same regard as the late and magnificent Julia Child and is a woman that even the iconic Martha Stewart bows to on all things culinary. Alice is as popular as our Delia but with a restaurant base rather than a TV series.
Alice Waters was born in 1944, in New Jersey. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 with a degree in French Cultural Studies. She trained at the Montessori School in London before spending a year travelling in France.
Alice opened her restaurant Chez Panisse in California in 1971, serving a fixed-price menu that changes daily. The set menu format remains key to Alice’s philosophy of serving only seasonal and fresh produce. The upstairs café at Chez Panisse opened in 1980 with an open kitchen, a wood-burning pizza oven, and an à la carte menu. Café Fanny, named after Alice’s daughter, serves breakfast and lunch, and opened 1984.
The Art of Simple Food is a book that has its entire focus on good ingredients, prepared without fuss. Alice starts with the basics but never confuses the reader with complicated cooking methods. It’s truly simple food but that’s not to say it’s bland or uninteresting. The dishes range from family fare to the more exotic Bagna Cauda.
The recipes, although good, solid and mostly familiar, have a Californian flavour that makes The Art of Simple Food an interesting read. It represents the style of food served in Alice’s restaurant and reminds us of trips to the Napa Valley. Quesadillas, Frittata, Pumpkin Pie all help to convince you that this isn’t a reprint of your grandmother’s cookbook.
Among the cake recipes is Cranberry Upside-Down Cake which has a real American feel and will be an ideal Christmas dessert. It’s an alternative to the classic apple Tarte Tatin and has the advantage of being less sweet and a bit more colourful.
Apart from the Californian slant there is plenty here to suggest that Alice Waters paid attention to her time in France. There are several Provencal dishes including the ubiquitous Ratatouille and Nicoise Salad.
The Art of Simple Food is an ideal cookbook for those who want a single volume that covers every aspect of cooking. Nothing is daunting for the novice and there are plenty of new dishes for the more experienced home cook.
The Art of Simple Food – Recipes, Notes and Lessons from a Delicious Revolution
Author: Alice Waters
Published by: Michael Joseph, Penguin
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018