I was at the ever-wonderful Connecticut Forum in Hartford.* The topic was “Food for Thought.” On stage were three chefs: Anthony Bourdain (of his memoir Kitchen Confidential and the TV series No Reservations), Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes, a big hit on the Food Network) and Alice Waters (Founder of Chez Panisse).
Anthony and Duff are media personalities. Anthony states, rather charmingly, “I’ve never been an innovator.” I’m not sure what Duff would say on that topic, but I get the sense that the combination of his endearing personality, big beefy athletic build, and his highly improbable career as a pastry chef is what makes him a big deal. Not being an innovator either.
But Alice Waters….oh, that Alice.**
To foodies, she is revered as the first prominent American restauranteur to promote the notion of eating only fresh and locally grown foods. She created California Cuisine. More than thirty years later, her “let’s only eat food from healthy sources” aspiration is widely spread and understood, if not widely adopted.
But the soft-spoken and slightly dreamy Alice has been steadily living and POUNDING that message for three decades. As the familiar words kept coming out of her mouth (getting close to the source of our foods, concern about American fast food culture) I had to keep reminding myself that this was not some copycat idealogue parroting a very familiar and, sadly, tired mantra. This is the woman who FORMED these ideas. She is the ORIGINATOR.
It was disconcertingly difficult for me to experience Alice’s ideas that way. I kept thinking “Yeah yeah yeah, I have heard this all before.” And then I would stop and think, “Hold on. This is ALICE. These are her ideas. and she is presenting them with the same conviction and passion that she did when she created them.”
And I realized, how rare is it for anyone to be in the presence of a truly original thinker. We forget how fresh and radical those ideas were when they first surfaced. And how deeply valuable.
(Thanks to The Connecticut Forum for consistently presenting these thinkers, in their 17 year history.
*Photo from Forum event taken by Kathleen Cei, and also presented in this article from the New Haven Advocate.
**Photo of Alice is from the Chez Panisse site…no photographer name is listed there.