The Ties That Bind: In a new memoir, Fanny Singer paints a tender portrait of her life as the daughter of famed chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.
Singer and Waters in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, in France’s Provence region
There’s something about mother-daughter relationships that can bring out the best, or the worst, in women. Fanny Singer’s memoir about growing up as the daughter of pioneering Chez Panisse chef and food activist Alice Waters, Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories ($35, Knopf), shows that there’s more here than just the duty of a biological bond. Like the closest of friends, they understand and respect one another. It’s a sentimental and captivating read—even for those who’ve never eaten at the Berkeley restaurant famed for inspiring California cuisine.
In sharing experiences from childhood through adulthood, Singer, a San Francisco writer, editor, art historian and co-founder of the design brand Permanent Collection, also illuminates her mother’s character, one thematic essay at a time. Singer starts with her mother’s love of beauty—“beauty as a language of care,” she writes—which is seen in Waters’ artistic plating of food, in her redecorations of Airbnb rentals to make them more hospitable and in wafting a burning branch of rosemary through the house for aroma and atmosphere. “If I ever smell the scent of burning rosemary anywhere outside of Berkeley,” Singer writes, “I feel myself lose equilibrium for a moment—it’s as if my mom has just trailed through the room, expunging the ghosts through the introduction of her own.” There are recollections of summer trips to the Domaine Tempier and the Pyrenees in France, of her glee at helping (and playing) in the restaurant kitchen, and of lugging soft-sided coolers to school for lunch, laden not with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but salad, grilled garlic bread, seasonal fruit compote and nosegays from the garden. Recipes for fruit galettes, simple Chez salad dressing, chicken stock and more are provided in good measure too.
Singer, who was to appear with Waters at a May 10 Mother’s Day tea at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (jccsf.org, now indefinitely postponed), says she hopes readers will be inspired to see that “beauty and love can be nurtured with few or no financial resources—they just require a certain investment of care and attention.” And, she adds, “that despite having a beloved and famous mother, I’ve managed to locate my own voice, and my own perspective, and even my own professional passions, which are mostly distinct from my mother’s, though certainly related. … I love her but I’m not beholden to her or to her legacy.”
A mother-daughter walk in Bolinas
Singer’s new book
Fanny Singer lights candles in “Shed Panisse” in Bolinas for her birthday party
Photography by: Brigitte Lacombe