Alice Waters Wants to Transform the Way California Students Eat
The renowned chef’s new restaurant at L.A.’s Hammer Museum is just the beginning. She is working alongside the UC system to help the campuses shift their dining options to an entirely regenerative program over the next five years.
To enter Lulu, Alice Waters’ new restaurant at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, you first make your way through a maze of guests rocking side to side in one of a dozen Herman Miller Magis Spun chairs strewn about the courtyard. You find your way to the host stand then pass a long, reclaimed table topped with wooden bowls and copper platters of fresh farmers market finds, like the Kishu mandarins that grace the dessert menu and Meyer lemons releasing their essence into the air.
You might stop to inspect the indigo pillows lining both indoor and outdoor booths, or the fabric mosaics woven into art pieces above the bar. All are made by Los Angeles local Christina Kim, entirely from scraps at her studio. Kim also designs all of Waters’ clothes, the renowned restaurateur and author tells me, sporting a navy-patterned caftan dress as we speak over spritzes and salads adorned with faultlessly poached eggs, broccolini, and lentils at the bar.
These details are no surprise, as Waters and chef David Tanis aren’t attempting to reinvent the wheel at Lulu. They are instead revisiting their roots with basic preparations of the best ingredients in a restaurant where even the smallest elements are treated like rare gems.
This echoes the type of space I first stepped into about 10 years ago when I interned at Chez Panisse. I spent four weeks in the pastry department of Waters’ iconic Berkeley restaurant, sorting through trays of blueberries for the fresh fruit bowls that graced the dessert menu. The final step of preparing the dish for service required me to head into the backyard and trim grape leaves from a tree that hung over picnic tables, where we ate staff meals on sunny days. The leaves needed to cover just enough of the serving bowl so that they climbed up the edges when the fruit was placed on top. And they all needed to be a similar size so that, as was explained to me, if a table got two fruit bowls, they would appear consistent.
How did I end up as an intern at the young age of 14, might you ask? The summer before I started high school, I wowed some family friends, who worked in the kitchen at the time, with a galette that I brought to a dinner party. They felt confident I could learn and grow leaps and bounds at Chez Panisse, and my mother agreed, permitting me to take the bus from downtown Oakland before 7 a.m. for a month.
I remember watching Waters walk through the kitchen, warmly greeting each employee and tasting whatever they had in front of them. Unknowingly, she taught me that every step, ingredient, and member of the team she so meticulously had put together mattered equally—then at Chez, now at Lulu.
Today, Waters’ efforts toward education continue to be at the forefront of Lulu. She told me that she agreed to the idea of taking over the restaurant space almost immediately upon hearing of its ties to the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Hammer is just a few short blocks from the main stretch of UCLA’s campus and exists as a free museum for all. Lulu sits between galleries that have showcased pieces from notable artists ranging from Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh to figurative painter and founder of the Underground Museum, Noah Davis.
Waters wants Lulu to be seen as a permanent installation within the museum, with chef David Tanis as daily curator. Each day, he combines his globally-inspired palate with farmers markets’ premier offerings like romanesco, watermelon radishes, apples, whole walnuts, and a variety of potatoes and beets.
Lulu is one part of a series of ambitious projects by Waters that are nearing fruition: She is working alongside the UC system to help the universities shift their dining options to an entirely regenerative program over the next five years involving local farmers, while also integrating farmers markets on campus and furthering education around land stewardship, nourishment, and community building. The initiative will begin with The Alice Waters Institute at the University of California, Davis, which will soon operate as a resource and cultural center for both the university and surrounding Sacramento community. The project will soon expand to UCLA, and Waters hopes to help convert the entire UC system to regenerative sources by 2027.
In the meantime, you can head to Lulu for a taste of Waters’ and Tanis’ exemplary preparations. Odds are you’ll never get the same dish twice—unless you opt for one of the staple salads or sides, like rosemary potato chips or almonds tossed with parmesan and herbs. The attention to detail and obvious admiration of simple ingredients offer an edible education to each and every diner who graces its reclaimed tables. Or you can try your hand at becoming a student of the pair thanks to these recipes they’ve generously shared with us from the restaurant’s menu.
Personally, I haven’t looked at blueberries or grape leaves the same since I crossed paths with Waters a decade ago.