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Chef Alice Waters keeps it simple for fans

April 27, 2010 |  7:15 am


“If you’ve come for a fancy cooking lesson, you’ve come to the wrong place,” said Alice Waters at the Festival of Books cooking stage. Dwarfed by her friend and collaborator, who held a pink parasol aloft to keep her shaded, Waters held an avid audience transfixed on Sunday.

Fans didn't mind braving the sun for Waters, the famed chef behind Chez Panisse and advocate for eating organic and local. They had snatched and saved all the seats more than 40 minutes before her demonstration began.

Waters began with only an empty counter and a compost bucket for peelings. She carefully unpacked cloth bags filled with fresh radishes, organic cage-free eggs, pomelos, cara cara oranges, Meyer lemons, garlic, fresh herbs, chard and mixed greens.

On the menu for the day’s demonstration was a fresh mixed green salad with vinaigrette, fava bean paste, and homemade aioli. 

Simplicity is the key ingredient for Waters’ recipes. Her collaborator, who was playing sous-chef, pointed out that a piece of hot grilled bread elevates a soup to another level.

The spotlight of the demonstration fell on one of the most basic kitchen tools: a mortar and pestle. Although it is old, they agreed it's one of the best. Grinding together garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar, Waters blended a vinaigrette in a few minutes while the sous-chef quickly mashed up fava beans into a hummus-like paste.

Waters was not afraid to get her hands dirty: Her sous-chef stressed that it's a great way to ensure that each of the leaves of lettuce is well coated with dressing. A perfect balance between sweetness, tartness and saltiness is essential in a dressing for Waters, and hers delivered -- she dipped her finger in her finished dressing and let out a delicate “mmm.”

Two other simple brunch meals that Waters confessed she couldn’t get enough of right now are a garden salad taco on an organic tortilla and grilled bread with slices of avocado.

Ten percent of Sunday's sales of Waters’ new book “In the Green Kitchen” went toward the Chez Panisse Foundation.

-- Casey Chan

Photo: Alice Waters, in purple, unloads her ingredients at the Festival of Books on Sunday. Credit: Casey Chan