Amanda Marsalis/National Endowment for the Humanities
Alice Waters, the chef behind the groundbreaking restaurant Chez Panisse, is among the recipients of the 2014 National Humanities Award, to be presented by President Obama on September 10, the White House has announced.
The medal, honoring those whose work provides greater understanding of the human experience and preserves or expands cultural resources, will also be awarded to novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, author Annie Dillard, and architect Everett L. Fly, among others.
Waters, a passionate advocate for the balance between eating well and preserving the environment, was chosen “for celebrating the bond between the ethical and the edible,” the White House announced. “As a chef, author, and advocate, Ms. Waters champions a holistic approach to eating and health and celebrates integrating gardening, cooking, and education, sparking inspiration in a new generation.”
The chef opened Chez Panisse in 1971, at the time only looking to run a place where her friends and family might join her for dinner. The restaurant became, instead, a revolutionary space that fostered the interconnectivity between local farmers and the chefs they could supply directly. That idea of farm-to-table may seem more than common now, but five decades ago, Waters was a pioneer in the field.
Some years ago, Water also founded the Chez Panisse Foundation, now the Edible Schoolyard Project, to connect young schoolchildren with an understanding of basic gardening and fostering food systems.
“We are part of nature, and we’re all longing to be connected to nature again,” Waters said in an interview with the National Endowment for the Humanities. “I think that’s why we want to eat in restaurants where the food changes with the seasons, where we’re eating something that’s alive, where we’re connecting with other people. It’s something we still have in our genes.”