Alice Waters’ daughter recalls growing up with an abundance of food, beauty, and warmth.
Swaddled in dish towels and set inside a huge salad bowl, newborn Singer (co-author, with Waters: My Pantry, 2015) was a regular visitor at Chez Panisse, her mother’s famed Berkeley restaurant, while Waters conferred with the manager or tasted dishes. “I don’t remember this, of course,” Singer writes, “but I feel like my disproportionate love of salad might have something to do with my early kitchen cribs.” Singer’s charming narrative, interwoven with Lacombe’s painterly black-and-white photographs, bursts with sensuous descriptions of tastes, fragrances, and textures as she recounts her “very rich and full and just a little bit unconventional” young life. Her remarkable school lunches featured greens with vinaigrette, kiwi in orange juice, and garlic toast that her classmates coveted. At home, even breakfast was transcendent: “a perfectly soft-boiled blue Araucana egg, with a marigold-hued liquid center into which I would delight in plunging buttered toast ‘soldiers.’” Instructions for making this dish, along with 59 other recipes—her mother’s garlicky noodle soup, her grandfather’s special pancakes, and, not surprisingly, several salads—add delectable details to the colorful narrative. Although sweet confections sometimes appeared for dessert—there are recipes for persimmon pudding and quince meringue ice cream—more likely the end of a meal was “the most perfect handful of raspberries” from their own garden or the sweetest fig. Only a perfectly ripe fruit met her mother’s exacting standards. Singer’s culinary adventures with her parents took her to the south of France as well as on a research trip of France’s great restaurants and wineries; her father, she adds, is “a committed oenophile and professional wine merchant.” Because neither parent spoke French, Singer, who went to a bilingual French school, served as official interpreter at age 9. Waters, who has been the subject of much media attention and multiple books, including her own memoir, Coming to My Senses (2017), is lovingly portrayed throughout Singer’s book. Her mother, writes the author, “is at once a kind of spiritual compass and a salve.”
An intimate homage to an iconic restaurateur.