Writer Fanny Singer and Her Mother, Chef Alice Waters, on What Travel Means to Them
The guiding principle of Singer's new book, "Always Home," is more relevant than ever as we find ourselves looking for beauty and newness in the familiar.
Out this month from Knopf, the memoir "Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories" features author Fanny Singer’s recipes and recollections of life with her mother, the chef Alice Waters. Each vignette — be it sneaking a snack from the kitchen at Chez Panisse or devouring gelato on a summer day in Sicily — is rich with a sense of place and enhanced by Brigitte Lacombe’s black-and-white photographs. T+L spoke with mother and daughter on their shared love of food, travel, and finding a sense of home wherever they are.
Alice Waters: We took our first trip, just the two of us, when Fanny was eight. When you are traveling with a young child, you allow yourself to wander.
Fanny Singer: I remember this trip. We were in the south of France, visiting our friends in Provence at Domaine Tempier. I remember pulling over at every town that looked like it would have a good farmers’ market.
Waters: The first thing that I do when I go to a new place is go to the market. I ask which restaurants buy their food there. That’s a beautiful thing that unites us — the connection with seasonality. But also, I don’t want to be at the mercy of a bad food experience, so I always pick up food to have with me for a picnic.
Singer: Once, at a restaurant in France, she ordered a pizza with nothing on it — the French are not known for their pizza — and out of her basket, she pulled mozzarella di bufala, basil, olive oil, and salt. Right at the table, no shame.
Waters: That’s something I love to do. I feel so self-reliant.
Singer: The working title of the book was just "Home." I wanted to impart to the reader that home can be figurative, that you can make yourself feel at home with small gestures. The first things my mom buys on a trip are candlesticks and salt.
Waters: I want eating to be beautiful even in places that are not particularly beautiful. Say you don’t love your rental house — bring out a couple candles, put a few flowers in a glass on the table. Make chicken stock.
Singer: We once arrived at a villa in Sicily and acquired a chicken before we even checked in.
Waters: I’m pretty anchored in Italy because of my work with the American Academy in Rome. That’s “always home” for me.
Singer: My most memorable meal in Italy was at Vipore, outside Lucca, back when when Cesare Casella ran it. I’ll never forget driving through the hills, leaning out the window as a child and asking people, Dov’è, Where is it?
Waters: Cesare always had a little bouquet of hand-picked herbs in the pocket of his jacket.
Singer: His fries will go down in history — ribbon-cut, with deep-fried rosemary and sage. I still remember the taste.
Waters: Food was the way we communicated with each other. It’s about love. The work that I’m doing in my life is absolutely about that.
Singer: Too often, we think of food as something that is purely functional. But there was never a moment in my childhood that felt like that. We ate for the pleasure and the community.
Waters: As a culture, it feels we’ve lost a bit of that sensorial awareness. But real engagement with the world around us is a way to understand the big picture, to see how we’re going to get along on the planet.
Singer: Travel gave me appetite and curiosity. I think that’s why she always took me with her. I just got back from Colombia — Bogotá, Cartagena, the rain forest. The whole time you’re looking for beauty, for newness, for all the ways to inhabit a new place. My favorite spot was a tiny restaurant in the middle of the jungle, where they caught fish right there in the river and served it with coconut rice and patacones. And passionfruit juice! Always passionfruit juice.
Waters: It’s funny to hear Fanny saying that, because it reminds me of the meal in Brittany that inspired me to open a restaurant. I was eating in a little house by a river — melon and ham, trout with almonds, and a raspberry tart. I thought, This is the best meal. I never forgot that. They caught the trout in the stream, they grew the melon, they made the ham. That moment was alive and right.
Singer: It creates a feeling of home.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline At Home in the World.