Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook

The long-awaited memoir from cultural icon and culinary standard bearer Alice Waters recalls the circuitous road and tumultuous times leading to the opening of what is arguably America's most influential restaurant.When Alice Waters opened the doors of her "little French restaurant" in Berkeley, California in 1971 at the age of 27, no one ever anticipated the indelible mar...

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Title:Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook
Author:Alice Waters
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Edition Language:English

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook Reviews

  • Brandon Gaukel

    I love this woman. This book is exactly what I want to read this week, I started it on a flight from Hawaii and just finished two days later. I swear by her cookbooks, she has changed my life and I got to meet her this year on the flight back from New York City. A GEM.

    Way to go Alice waters, small groups change the world always.

  • Daniel Palevski

    Simple and honest, I was very taken with Waters' clear and concise writing style as well as her willingness to be open and revealing. Often she criticizes herself has being naive, but this is the part of her I felt most pulled into.

    I ate at Chez Panisse when I was in Berkeley about a month ago. I ate at the cafe and wasn't entirely blown away with the experience, but it was definitely a nice meal and a nice place to share a meal with friends. After reading the book, I can look back and say the l

    Simple and honest, I was very taken with Waters' clear and concise writing style as well as her willingness to be open and revealing. Often she criticizes herself has being naive, but this is the part of her I felt most pulled into.

    I ate at Chez Panisse when I was in Berkeley about a month ago. I ate at the cafe and wasn't entirely blown away with the experience, but it was definitely a nice meal and a nice place to share a meal with friends. After reading the book, I can look back and say the lighting particularly helped create a cozy ambiance.

    This book tells her life story and how she became a chef. Ultimately, she became considered one of the founders of new American cooking and the farm-to-table movement, but this book doesn't delve into those labels or classifications. In fact, it's almost as Waters tries to humble herself and avoid those accolades.

    Instead, she focuses more on herself as a person and how she developed into her worldview. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are where she explains what she's like to see more of in society and the type of life she'd like to lead. Going to college in Berkeley, she became somewhat political, and these statements about our country and politics I thought resonated very well with me and what are country is facing today:

    Pg. 93 - from the beach to Berkeley 

    "When the dominant culture behaves immorally, the way the United States was about the war, civil rights, and freedom of public expression, you begin to feel betrayed."

    "Somewhere along the way, in our country's rush to industrialization and consumerism, it began to feel like America had lost its humanity."

  • Linda

    loved! Book ends at the opening of her cafe Chez Panisse. Participated in Free Speech Movement, Berkeley while she tried to make her cafe “perfect”. Lots of picture, very enjoyable.

  • Kathy Cowie

    3.5 stars

    I decided to listen to this book because it is read by Alice Waters. While she cannot really compare to the many wonderful, professionally-trained actors who read audiobooks, I still enjoyed hearing the story from her. She is in her 70s now, I think, and there is something mind-blowing about hearing someone that age talk about how she payed for the building that is now Chez Panisse with the help of parents, friends, and some "un-named dope dealers." How she came to be such a culinary le

    3.5 stars

    I decided to listen to this book because it is read by Alice Waters. While she cannot really compare to the many wonderful, professionally-trained actors who read audiobooks, I still enjoyed hearing the story from her. She is in her 70s now, I think, and there is something mind-blowing about hearing someone that age talk about how she payed for the building that is now Chez Panisse with the help of parents, friends, and some "un-named dope dealers." How she came to be such a culinary legend is a truly roundabout and fascinating story, and you should listen to it just to hear the names of all the people who dropped by before they were famous. Also, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the book, she admits turning down a dinner with her friend John Kott while she was living in London - he was in town to interview John Lennon (in 1967 or so), and she was too overwhelmed by the thought to join them for dinner. She admits, "in hindsight, that was probably a mistake." Her love of food is contagious, and her rapture about garlic and fresh-picked lettuce made my mouth water — has your mouth ever watered for the taste of lettuce? That's impressive. Her kitchen is a legendary rite of passage for some of the biggest names in the Slow Food movement. If you are any kind of cook or foodie, you will love this story.

  • Rebecca Wilkins

    Well it starts with the pitiful photo on the front and doesn't progress much beyond that. Alice is a remarkable woman especially if you watch the PBS special on American Masters but I didn't get it from the book. She skips around and does tell all in regard to drugs and sex but it is all her early life that could have been covered in a couple chapters. There is nothing about her life after the restaurant got successful, her daughter and the edible school yard. These latter things I would have be

    Well it starts with the pitiful photo on the front and doesn't progress much beyond that. Alice is a remarkable woman especially if you watch the PBS special on American Masters but I didn't get it from the book. She skips around and does tell all in regard to drugs and sex but it is all her early life that could have been covered in a couple chapters. There is nothing about her life after the restaurant got successful, her daughter and the edible school yard. These latter things I would have been more interested to read about than childhood. She also couldn't remember things at several points and that is either saying more about her age or her intellect. I have been to her restaurant twice, although only the cafe as the cost and not being able to choose what you eat prohibited the dinners downstairs. She influenced a lot of people and I like the concept of the edible school yard. I would have liked to read more about that. I can understand trying to protect her daughter by not covering those years and yet that also might have been interesting how she juggled motherhood and her by then successful career. I have been reading Charles Shere's blog "Eating Every Day" for several years. He is well into his 80's and whenever they are in Berkeley they eat at Chez Panisse. Now I realize they were/are original owners. I knew his "cook" had been a pastry chef there but didn't quite realize about the ownership. Alice probably should have let someone write a biography rather than trying to do it herself. She let others be the cook right from the start.

  • Melissa

    Very fascinating but it takes place from her birth to Chez Panisse opening in 1971 (some mentions take place past this time). But it doesn't cover the most interesting parts of her life: running a restaurant for 45 years, her marriage, her daughter, Edible Schoolyard. I was disappointed as the last disc came to a close and this was all glossed over. Maybe one day there will be a part 2.

  • Brittany

    I realllyyyyy wanted this book to be good, because Alice is one of the most import Bay Area icons. The book left me constantly wanting to know more. She glosses over key moments in her life and doesn't really give herself enough credit for what she did in the Bay. It could have used a strong editor or ghost writer.

  • Ally

    I desperately wanted to like this book. I'm a huge fan of Alice Waters, her restaurant Chez Panisse, and the work that she has done with transforming the food culture in American. When the author was growing up, her family ate mostly convenience foods - mashed potato flakes, boxed cake mixes, etc. It wasn't until she spent a year abroad in France that she began to understand about flavor, freshness, and what it means to be thoughtful and intentional about your eating. She wanted to bring that ex

    I desperately wanted to like this book. I'm a huge fan of Alice Waters, her restaurant Chez Panisse, and the work that she has done with transforming the food culture in American. When the author was growing up, her family ate mostly convenience foods - mashed potato flakes, boxed cake mixes, etc. It wasn't until she spent a year abroad in France that she began to understand about flavor, freshness, and what it means to be thoughtful and intentional about your eating. She wanted to bring that experience back to her life in the US, so she opened her little french restaurant, Chez Panisse in 1971.

    From the very beginning, there was a set menu that all diners were given. It changed daily (nowadays, weekly), based on what protein, fruits, and veggies are freshest. Because they tend to have more flavor and nutrients, the priority is for locally and organically-grown foodstuffs, shunning the factory-farms. Chez Panisse was really the beginning of the farm-to-table concept of dining, thus playing a massive role in revolutionizing the way Americans eat.

    I, too, grew up with a family of non-cooks, so there were lots of "instant" and "pre-made" foods in the pantry. It wasn't until I was living on my own, after college, that I really paid attention to what I was eating and where it came from. This inspired me to learn to cook, and through which I discovered the Chez Panisse cookbooks. I've always identified with Alice, because of our similar food history, and considered her one of my greatest inspirations. I have first editions of all of her cookbooks (a few are signed), the restaurant's 40th anniversary commemorative book, a publishsed collection of beautifully designed menus, and the biography ALICE WATERS AND CHEZ PANISSE by Thomas McNamee. You could say that I'm a bit obsessed, which is why I was so excited to learn that she was releasing her memoir, COMING TO MY SENSES: THE MAKING OF A COUNTERCULTURE COOK. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations.

    The story begins with Alice's parents, giving insight into their families, personalities, and relationships. Alice goes on to share a few pictures, anecdotes, and personal opinions about the culture and politics at play in her upbringing, as well as her relationship with her sisters, and memorable experiences that she had as a child. You follow her as she comes-of-age, explores romantic relationships, gets involved in politics and activism, and has her great food awakening - a movement that becomes a driving force in every aspect of her life. Much of this was covered in Thomas McNamee's book, but it was interesting to hear about it from Alice directly.

    In fact, one of the most interesting parts of the book was not so much the material, but the way it was written. The authorial voice comes across exactly as if you sat with Alice for an afternoon and she told you her life story. Alice is famously a very passionate and opinionated person, idealistic, and a consummate snob - all of those qualities come through loud and clear in her writing. This isn't a negative comment on the book, it just speaks to the authenticity of the author. It may be off-putting to some readers, but I didn't mind it.

    What really detracted from my enjoyment of COMING TO MY SENSES were its confusing organizational structure and its surface-level writing. I felt as though this book could have benefited greatly from a thesis statement. What exactly was the author trying to convey - her life story? The story of her restaurant's inception? Everything felt a bit muddled. In fact, the amount of odd details that the author shares, such as about the Berkeley clothing store owner who dressed Alice in the early days of Chez Panisse and then went on to become a Hollywood costume designer, were confusing and extraneous. It was sometimes difficult to surmise exactly the point that the author was trying to make.

    The book is marketed as a memoir, which I found to be incredibly misleading. When I sit down with a memoir, I expect to be drawn into certain key moments from the author's life, and follow her through her reflections on those moments, analyzing and making deep meaning of them and how they have impacted her. What you find on the pages of COMING TO MY SENSES is an autobiography, and a surface-level one at that. There are brief moments where Alice goes into detail and analysis about things that are happening, but the vast majority of the book is "telling" the reader about her life rather than "showing"...almost a play-by-play but without any commentary. For someone who is so sophisticated about so many things, I was truly disappointed by the simplistic way in which she wrote this book.

    For those who are interested in Alice Waters and her food awakening, there is a lot to like about her most recent book. You'll learn about her early years in New Jersey and Michigan, her involvement in campus protests and political activism in the San Francisco area, and her formative experiences with food and cooking. Her personality comes through clearly in her authorial voice, but there is a disconnect between that voice and the actual content of the book. To find a way to meld that voice and personality with some more focused, detailed, and in-depth reflections would be to make COMING TO MY SENSES a much more powerful and engaging story.

  • Aria

    ---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

    ---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

  • Gail

    I don't know why I even requested this book from the library. Generally, I'm interested in people who become chefs and what brought them to that vocation. Years ago, I read many books on fascinating chefs that were well written. This book is not one of them. Alice Waters should just stick to cooking and forget about penning a memoir. I could only get through half before I finally gave up. I found the writing to be juvenile, boring, with tons of name-dropping. It seemed very stilted to me. I coul

    I don't know why I even requested this book from the library. Generally, I'm interested in people who become chefs and what brought them to that vocation. Years ago, I read many books on fascinating chefs that were well written. This book is not one of them. Alice Waters should just stick to cooking and forget about penning a memoir. I could only get through half before I finally gave up. I found the writing to be juvenile, boring, with tons of name-dropping. It seemed very stilted to me. I couldn't care less about what she did, who her friends were, the people she met along the way, etc. This is definitely not a good piece of literature.

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