When I left university, I was torn between pursuing my career in photography or my interest in the slow food movement, in particular, introducing gardens into the school system so that the next generation would grow up able to recognize foods, understand where they came from and how to prepare them. I was well studied on and passionate about this topic (I get very very focused when I am interested in something) and couldn’t believe my luck when I scored an internship in the office of Alice Waters — it was a dream come true, or at least the result of lots of persistence.
My father flew out to Berkeley with me to help find an apartment. He jokes that the moment we rolled into town, I peeled off my preppy knit cashmere sweater to reveal my tie-die tee underneath — like I had finally come home! In the end, I was only there for four months but, my father visited me three times in that short duration. One of the trips, we took a two week drive around California to every national park, just the two of us. Another trip, I accidentally ate my roommate’s medicinal pot cookies and had to get him to come rescue me, which he did, without question. He’s a really good dad.
Back to Alice: I imagined that I would be a fly on the wall, performing surface level tasks and hiding in the bathroom whenever possible, and was terrifyingly and pleasantly surprised to be thrown right in. I loved every minute of it — Alice had built a team of incredibly talented people, some of whom are still good friends, and the day Michael Pollan walked in and tapped me on the shoulder to ask where Alice might be was one I will never forget. You would have thought it was … Obama? I practically fell out of my chair, he was and still is a huge hero of mine.
It was in Alice’s office that I first learned how to arrange and tend to flowers, a passion that continues to this day. I was also fortunate to have a few non-work related dinners with her when we were able to drink lots of wine and have DMCs (deep and meaningful conversations) — most memorable was my 24th birthday when we spoke long into the night about love. Little did I know that I would meet Will, my husband to be, just five weeks later. Before heading off to Savannah for graduate school, I returned to Berkeley for my first professional photography gig: The 40th Anniversary of Chez Panisse. When I was hugging Alice goodbye after a weekend of celebration she said, “you’ll be back…”.
Dinner, or any meal, with Alice is never simple. It is infused with love, coziness, magic and a seasonal freshness that connects you with your environment. She will introduce you to a fruit that you haven’t even heard of or hand you the most delicious strawberry that you have ever tasted. She will talk to you with an unguarded and open heart, about anything. She is not self-conscious or worried about what you might think of her; she is deeply and unapologetically herself. So what does this teach us, really, besides the obvious tenants that she has fought for her entire life?
It teaches us to live with passion. To fight for something that we can dedicate our lives to, in pursuit of the betterment of our families, communities and our planet. And if that feels too daunting for now, Alice teaches us to make time to celebrate others, and to make them feel so so special. She teaches us to live for the pleasure of it all, for ourselves and the people around us, to listen and engage, understanding that learning something new might just set us on yet another glorious adventure.