Chef, restaurateur, activist, author
Born: April 28, 1944, in Chatham Borough, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2014: Public Service
Alice Waters has had a simple goal in life: To change the way Americans experience food. To that end, and in many other endeavors, she has been an unqualified success.
Raised in suburban Chatham Borough, Waters is the daughter of a management consultant father and a homemaker mom. She earned a degree in French cultural studies at the University of California-Berkeley at a time when the Free Speech Movement was altering campus life. The idealism of the moment has driven her lifelong spirit of activism.
During her college years, Waters studied for a period in France, where she fell in love with the idea of simple foods based on local ingredients. After graduation, she returned to Europe to train as a teacher at the International Montessori School in London, which stressed hands-on learning.
In 1971, back in Berkeley and with no experience as a restaurateur, Waters and a friend opened Chez Panisse, a restaurant dedicated to locally grown, fresh ingredients. It took eight years for the restaurant to turn a profit, during which time she became a well-known advocate for organic farming. Her food advocacy expressed itself in many ways, including the Garden Project, which, according to britannica.com, provided produce for the San Francisco county jail and jobs for former inmates.
By 1996, when Chez Panisse celebrated its 25th anniversary, Waters had achieved legendary status as a leading force in the slow-food movement, which in many ways did indeed change the way Americans think about food. That same year, she launched the Chez Panisse Foundation, whose mission is to use public schools as a platform to improve childhood nutrition and education about food.
Although her Edible Schoolyard program and School Lunch Initiative focused mainly on Berkeley-area schools, these initiatives stretched to other metropolitan areas and influenced policymakers all the way to the White House. In 2010, Waters was a leading voice for the reauthorization of the federal Child Nutrition Act; she has long advocated for funding to provide every public-school child with a nutritious breakfast and lunch.
Waters is the author or co-author of some 16 cookbooks and books about food. She has won numerous awards for her cooking and social activism. In 1992, she became the first woman to be honored as chef of the year by the James Beard Foundation. The same foundation also honored Waters with its humanitarian award in 1997 and with a lifetime achievement award in 2004.