Art

Alice Waters' Daughter Fanny Singer Loves to Cook (Surprise!)

April  6, 2018

Welcome to My Life at Home, where we slow down for just a minute to share a glimpse into the lives of food lovers we'd love to get to know better. Kick off your shoes and get comfy!

Hello, Fanny! Photo by Daniel Dent

Fanny Singer, the daughter of legendary food pioneer Alice Waters, has always appreciated the beauty around her: the awe-inspiring Northern California outdoors, the bounty of unrivaled produce, her family's collection of kitchen implements with oodles of stories to tell. But neither she nor her mother are precious about the things.

"Why own those things if you don't use them?" she asks during our chat, referring specifically to her treasured café au lait bowls (of which at least 10 or so have little seams of glue marking their individual stories at any given moment). Her philosophy? Use what you love!

It was this love of art, design, and utility that drew her overseas to London more than 10 years ago. After pursuing a PhD in art history and starting up Permanent Collection, a sustainable home, fashion, and design brand with cofounder Mariah Nielson, Singer returned to the Bay Area—back to the vibrant glory that is California fruits and vegetables (boy, did she miss it big time!), back to her childhood home while she hunts for own place.

The kitchen takes on a Dutch masterpiece vibe with the light streaming in. Photo by Daniel Dent

Fans of the delightful and practical My Pantry cookbook may already know that she illustrated and co-wrote it with Waters. Singer's now working on her own book due out next year, and we had a chance to chat with the art historian about life back home, which is powered by morning cups of tea with mom and the occasional sweet vice she'd rather have us keep under wraps.

We can only imagine the incredible meals had around this large and welcoming dining table. Photo by Daniel Dent

HANA ASBRINK: When are you happiest at home?

FANNY SINGER: Writing in front of my mother’s kitchen hearth with a big fire roaring on a quiet, foggy day. I run Permanent Collection, but I still think of my métier as writing, so am happiest when I can sit quietly by a fire to focus on it. If I’m lucky, I might get one of my mom’s eggs fried in a spoon in the fireplace as a snack!

Left: "Alice’s Egg Spoon" on display and ready to work. / Right: Fanny and Alice's collection of café au lait bowls. Photo by Left: Terri Loewenthal / Right: Daniel Dent

HA: This may be a silly question to ask, especially of you, but do you enjoy cooking? How often do you cook for yourself?

FS: I absolutely love to cook and cook for myself every day. I also inherited a love of entertaining from my parents, so tend to have people over for dinner at least twice a week. There’s no better way to build community in my experience.

I’ve also started a series of artist dinners with a friend who's an art director, writer, and fabulous home cook, Alex Tieghi-Walker. It's loosely inspired by an artist's lifestyle, practice and art. In the case of Georgia O’Keeffe, the patron saint of our inaugural dinner last week, we include many actual recipes from the artist, like Yukon Gold potato curry and green chiles with garlic). Frida Kahlo, Donald Judd, and Judy Chicago are some of the subjects we’re considering for future gatherings.

All the kitchen soldiers, reporting for duty. Photo by Terri Loewenthal

HA: When you're home, where will we usually find you?

FS: Either making a meal in the kitchen or in the “besk,” a useful portmanteau conceived during my freelance years to refer to the “bed/desk” phenomenon.

HA: What are your three desert-island kitchen & home items?

FS: A Tuscan grill (my mom’s classic, simple iron grill), the now-famous egg spoon, and a very sharp Japanese chopping knife.

Whatever you do, keep 'em sharp. Photo by Daniel Dent

HA: Your favorite meal for one?

FS: Salad—I love my greens! (Although I usually make enough for four, if left to my own devices). A recent favorite is butter lettuce with avocado, Alphonso mango, Cara Cara orange, slivered kumquats, jicama matchsticks, and spicy toasted pumpkin seeds in a lemony cilantro vinaigrette. The citrus in California is so good—it’s been the easiest part of my repatriation.

HA: Are you an early bird or night owl?

FS: I’m a total early bird. I take after my mom—we both have a lot of shoot-out-of-bed energy in the morning. I’ll hear her on the phone at 8 a.m. already imploring someone to do something about food justice or edible education or the fact that this-or-that farm really should be using organic feed for their herd—before we’ve even had a proper cup of tea!

A morning ritual: Mother and daughter start their days over cups of pu-erh, fermented Chinese black tea (Alice's obsession). Photo by Eric Wolfinger

HA: Where do you draw your style inspiration from? How much of your personal style is inherited versus invented?

FS: I feel like my parents’ love of Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Matsuda in the nineties was a strong influence.

My mom also loved to wear vintage clothing in the early days of Chez Panisse. She was that one hippie who eschewed bell-bottoms in favor of 1920s Weimar-worthy dresses. So the idea of mining the past to create a unique sense of style is something I grew up understanding the value of.

Wordsmiths and music lovers, welcome! Photo by Daniel Dent

HA: What is your decorating style?

FS: I grew up in a late Victorian-Arts & Crafts that home that was all dark wood and burgundy hues. When my parents divorced, my dad built himself a modern house with concrete and pale wood. My taste falls somewhere in between: I love the sense of order that comes with modernism (both midcentury and present day) and lighter color palettes of that design aesthetic, but also love a bit of patina, acquired from actual, personal use.

Life is short: Use what you love! Photo by Daniel Dent

HA: What do you do to decompress and reenergize?

FS: I'm cooking! [laughs] It's kind of crazy that something that is part of our work (especially for my mom), is still something that is such a source of pleasure. I mean, we'll both come to the kitchen, kind of fiddle around, go outside to the garden, make an arrangement of flowers, and pick a few fresh herbs. It's certainly an important way of feeling reoriented around all of your work.

Okay California, you can stop showing off now.

HA: What did you miss most about the U.S. during your years in London?

FS: The quality and variety of the produce here in California. And of course, Mexican food! It's the thing that I just craved SO MUCH in London.

HA: If your walls could talk, what would they say?

FS: They would be shocked at my love of Haribo Fizzy Cola Gummi Candy. (Shhhh! don’t tell my mom...)

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What would your walls say if we asked them to spill the beans? Let us know below!

2 Comments

tamater S. August 9, 2018
Great feature, great folks, great photos, and the links in this story sent me off to the very best places, (several book marks, and a 'subscribe) you could say I'm wildly enthusiastic, in spite of a bad case of envy over Alice's collection of café au lait bowls!
 
Sophia R. April 7, 2018
I love that you combined your love of art and cooking! Also, thank you for carrying the egg spoon. Ask your mom if she likes the chocolate, cacao botanical print and antique molinillo I gave her.