STARRED REVIEW
September 2017

Tales from the liberated kitchen

By Alyssa Harad
Review by

Waters’ new memoir, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, is a reminiscence of an extended adolescence spent not only navigating the enticements of postwar liberation—drinking, sex, art and anti-establishment politics—but also foreign countries, including France, Turkey, Georgia and Greece, to name a few, places that embrace community and kindness as much as food and cooking.

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People often associate Julia Child, who made French food accessible to the home cook, with Alice Waters, whose restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, was one of the epicenters for the movement toward simple, locavore dining. And the two culinary queens do have much in common, especially as crusaders for what might be called “real food” in a time when most Americans’ dining experiences ran the culinary gamut from A to B, as Dorothy Parker would say.

But while Child and Waters are both legendary free spirits, there are striking differences between the two. Child was a classicist who mastered technique and fine detail, a quirky sophisticate who believed “all things in moderation,” while Waters, a card-carrying advocate of 1960s-style exuberance, is a hedonist, punch-drunk with flavor and scent and texture.

Waters’ new memoir, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, is a reminiscence of an extended adolescence spent not only navigating the enticements of postwar liberation—drinking, sex, art and anti-establishment politics—but also foreign countries, including France, Turkey, Georgia and Greece, to name a few, places that embrace community and kindness as much as food and cooking.

Waters’ memoir, as touching as it sometimes is, can be a little helter-skelter: There are italicized inserts that shoulder into the narrative, supplying details of a person’s biography or offering foreshadowing or philosophical asides. And there are plenty of famous names dropped, unavoidably, as Waters’ friends are connected to an impressive array of filmmakers, more experienced chefs, artists and writers.

These diary-like passages, and Waters’ almost stream-of-consciousness remarks on the importance of mood, music, visual arts and flowers on the dining experience, come to a head with the hilariously chaotic opening of Chez Panisse in 1971. If the way to counterculture’s heart is through its stomach, Chez Panisse is the start.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Coming to My Senses

Coming to My Senses

By Alyssa Harad
Viking
ISBN 9780670023615

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