Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Review: Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee
Thomas McNamee took on a yeoman's task with his biography of Alice Waters and her iconic Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. So many people move in and out of Water's life and the Chez Panisse story – as friends, advisors, business partners, lovers, chefs, collaborators, and enablers – and there are so many near misses, splashy successes, headline grabbers, and petty squabbles, that the book could have been buried under lists of names and dates.
Instead, McNamee concentrates on Water's personal development arc from the starry-eyed, Francophile hippie who opened Chez Panisse in 1971 to America's cultural leader on local food sourcing, sustainable agriculture, and the Slow Food ideal. He uses the restaurant's history for context and color, including menus, recipes, and interviews with Panisse intimates.
While it includes unflattering details, the book is not intended as hard-eyed criticism of Water's business efforts or policy ideas. Instead, McNamee gives an entertaining, insider's view of a famous restaurant and its charismatic, influential star.
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Alice Waters and Chez Panisse counts as one of my books for the Foodies Read Challenge (hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather be at the Beach), the Mt. TBR Challenge (hosted by Bev on My Reader's Block), and the Off the Shelf Challenge (hosted by Bonnie on Bookish Ardour).