Describe your latest book
From the publisher:
In the Green Kitchen presents essential cooking techniques to be learned by heart plus more than 50 recipes — for delicious fresh, local, and seasonal meals — from Alice and her friends. She demystifies the basics including steaming a vegetable, dressing a salad, simmering stock, filleting a fish, roasting a chicken, and making bread. In this indispensable cookbook, she gives you everything you need to bring out the truest flavor that the best ingredients of the season have to offer.
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How is running a restaurant, in terms of sources and clientele, different now than in the '70s, when you opened Chez Panisse?
It was another world. If we couldn't find an ingredient we wanted to use, we had to grow it ourselves. Now everything I want for the restaurant is readily available. It's amazing — and things are more delicious and more interesting than I ever imagined they would be.
This book feels like a peek into a culinary academy, full of techniques for handling fresh whole food — filleting a fish, sautéing garlic without scorching it — yet it feels very approachable, very doable for the non-foodie. How do you determine how much detail to put into the instructions. What to leave out and what to include?
I can never leave out my purist message: how the food tastes, where it comes from, and that it was raised in a good, clean, and fair way. When you have good ingredients, cooking doesn't require a lot of instruction because you can never go very wrong. These are techniques to learn by heart; once held they give you the tools to be able to cook, whoever and wherever you may be.
Farmers' markets are great inspirations for cooking with fresh, local food, but in many areas, they close in winter. How do you sustain this kind of approach when local fresh ingredients are hard to come by?
You have to take it upon yourself and preserve and can foods that you'll want for the winter. It's also important to encourage your local markets to stay open during the winter — the Green Market in New York stays open year-round, selling vegetables that can survive a frost: kale, cabbage, cellared root vegetables, apples, pears, etc.
You've said in the past that your cookbooks are collaborations, but In the Green Kitchen, which features a number of different cooks and their specialties, is more explicitly collaborative than the others. Was the process of writing this book different from writing your other books?
It was. This book is really about other points of view from people that come from different backgrounds. These basic techniques are understood and used by people all around the world, and that's what binds us together.
When learning techniques that rely on developing a feel for when something has cooked or blended enough and when flavors are balanced, there must be a fair amount of trial and error. Do you have any advice for mastering these techniques without traumatizing the family or guests?
Ask other people to taste, too! Collaborate with your family as you cook and ask them how they like their vinaigrette best. At Chez Panisse, a vital part of our process is that we all taste and share our opinions.
In your career so far you've done so much more than prepare and serve delicious, wholesome food. How has directing your energies toward education and the slow food movement interacted with your creativity in the kitchen?
The principles of Slow Food have always, in one way or another, guided my approach to food. At the restaurant we are supplied by 85 small, organic, sustainable family farms that we have built strong relationships with over the years. Chez Panisse is a true food community, we rely on the producers and they rely on us; this relationship and the wonderful results it yields are the source of our constant renewal and inspiration.
Can you talk about the Edible Education program, which will receive proceeds from the sale of In the Green Kitchen?
Every child should eat for free at school! It's the only way to change the way we think about food in America. The Chez Panisse Foundation has transformed school lunch in Berkeley and we would like to change the way every child in America is fed. Part of this is our continued work with school lunch reform but another vital aspect is the establishment Edible Schoolyard programs around the country. These kitchen gardens, integrated as part of the curriculum, help greatly to bring children into a new relationship with food and impart lifelong habits about healthful eating, community, and environmental stewardship.