Alice Waters spreads the gospel of good food at ChefDance

All the Sundancing I did this year was to spend a day with Alice WatersChefDance featured the famous chef and food advocate for a lunch and a dinner and I went to both. To be honest, ChefDance (well, Sundance in general) is a surprisingly loosely organized event for something that’s been going on as long as it has. Communication seems to be lacking and this year, friends Blake Spalding and Jen Castle, owners of the famous Utah organic farm and restaurant, who were here for a photo shoot, were called in on an emergency basis because of organization problems in the kitchen and dining room. Little things—when we entered, Spalding was filling water glasses from a Lexan pan with a ladle—that should be automatically thought of by experienced caterers, had been left undone.

But Waters is a true icon. Beginning with her advocacy of eating locally and seasonally, she has changed the mindset of professional chefs all over the world and inspired the  restaurant business to start becoming a force for good in agriculture, nutrition and taste. She has sparked awareness of how broken the American food system is and her arguably most important cause, The Edible Schoolyard Project, was the theme of her ChefDance appearances.

The idea that what children eat is an important national concern is difficult to convert to reality—the American public school system has so many layers of bureaucracy and budgetary constraints that the simple idea of serving fresh food to children tends to get smothered in red tape.

But Waters continues to advocate.

Asked to imagine we were eating in a school cafeteria—not a pleasant memory for most of us—Waters served the ultimately simple nutritious meal. Based on the Native American tradition of the “Three Sisters,” an ancient agricultural trick of growing corn, beans and squash together, the menu eschewed all the fancy chef tricks and garnishes we’ve seen from ChefDancing chefs in the past, only breaking its own rules with a distinctly out of season strawberry dessert.

I have a sister in Texas, formerly a fine dining chef, who now directs the food program at an entire school district,and tries to follow the overall tenets laid out by Waters: a garden at every school, an attempt to integrate nutrition and food knowledge into the curriculum. The concepts are difficult to scale up. Year-round seasonal organic food is hard to find in climates outside bountiful state of California. There is a cost factor to overcome.

Even Waters had trouble finding enough organic beans in Utah to serve for lunch. But with this kind of ideal, it’s important to keep your eyes and energy focused on the goal, not the challenges. Waters’ stardom and the respect she commands help keep the message in front of us: Everyone deserves healthy, balanced and delicious food to eat. Our planet is crying out for more thoughtful sustainable growing practices.

Her message was less glittery than the usual Sundance glamor. But her voice might have been the most important voice at the Festival.

You don’t have to get your hands dirty to help. Just give to the Edible Schoolyard Project:

Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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