Our Mothers Ourselves

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse – Cooking is an Act of Love. A Conversation with Fanny Singer

September 26, 2020 Fanny Singer Season 2 Episode 7
Our Mothers Ourselves
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse – Cooking is an Act of Love. A Conversation with Fanny Singer
Chapters
Our Mothers Ourselves
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse – Cooking is an Act of Love. A Conversation with Fanny Singer
Sep 26, 2020 Season 2 Episode 7
Fanny Singer



What with the country in total turmoil, and people doing a lot of fretful handwringing, it might be time to take a breather and celebrate someone who's brought an abundance of solid joy to the palates of so many.

Katie talks with Fanny Singer, the daughter of famed chef and farm-to-table trailblazer Alice Waters, who in 1971 started her Berkeley, Calif. restaurant Chez Panisse intending to feed her community of 60's friends and fellow activists. In the process, she created an entire culinary movement that forever changed the way we think about food.

Fanny's new book, Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories, is an ode to her mother that rings true and clear. Her pure -- and deeply requited --  love for her mother is in ample evidence on every page.

Katie and Fanny explore the ways in which Alice expressed her love for Fanny, and the many gifts she has bestowed upon her daughter -- and the world.

Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)

Show Notes Transcript



What with the country in total turmoil, and people doing a lot of fretful handwringing, it might be time to take a breather and celebrate someone who's brought an abundance of solid joy to the palates of so many.

Katie talks with Fanny Singer, the daughter of famed chef and farm-to-table trailblazer Alice Waters, who in 1971 started her Berkeley, Calif. restaurant Chez Panisse intending to feed her community of 60's friends and fellow activists. In the process, she created an entire culinary movement that forever changed the way we think about food.

Fanny's new book, Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories, is an ode to her mother that rings true and clear. Her pure -- and deeply requited --  love for her mother is in ample evidence on every page.

Katie and Fanny explore the ways in which Alice expressed her love for Fanny, and the many gifts she has bestowed upon her daughter -- and the world.

Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)

Unknown Speaker :

My mother was a woman of tremendous integrity. My mother was curious. Sensitive. Compassionate. Honest. Always there for us. Unflappable. Loyal. Complicated. She is devoted. Resilient. Dazzling. Giving. Vivacious. Extraordinary.

Fanny Singer :

No one wants to turn down something that's made with love. You know, that's delicious. It's a kind of seduction. And I think my mom understood that. So every time she fed me anything, it was also a message.

Katie Hafner :

Hello, and welcome to Our Mothers Ourselves: The Food Edition. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Our country right now, well, we've, we've seen better times. In fact, one of those better times was the day in 1971 when Alice Waters started a restaurant in Berkeley, California called, Chez Panisse. Her idea which she executed so beautifully, was to make delicious food from ingredients that aren't just fresh, but completely locally sourced. It's a simple concept with profound consequences. In the nearly 50 years that Chez Panisse has been in business, millions of devotees from around the world have flocked there. And long before the word scalability was part of anybody's lexicon, Alice Waters' approach to fresh foods locally sourced was replicated around the world. However, there's only one person on the planet who happens to be the child of Alice Waters. And that's the writer, Fanny Singer. Her relationship with her mother's food is intimate, filled with love, and revealing about this one universal yet deeply personal way in which a mother's love can be expressed. Fanny's book, Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories was published earlier this year to rave reviews. Fanny Singer, thank you so much for coming on to Our Mothers Ourselves to talk to me about your mom.

Fanny Singer :

It's so lovely to be here. I obviously having written a book about her, I'm quite eager to speak about her to any possible juncture, or oppurtunity. So.

Katie Hafner :

I can imagine. I really love the book. Let's get into that in a minute. But I want to ask you something that I asked every single guest and right off the top. If you had just one word to describe your mother an adjective, what would it be?

Fanny Singer :

I think it would have to be determined.

Katie Hafner :

Mm. I like that. So you do with words, maybe what she does with food, you take what you're experiencing with food, and you put it into words.

Fanny Singer :

Thank you.

Katie Hafner :

Really, really nice. How did you? How did you get the idea to write the book?

Fanny Singer :

Well, so my mom and I wrote this little book called, My Pantry. And that experience, even though at the time I was living in England at a great distance from her was one in which we had this renewed kind of intimacy, because we were in contact, often in dialogue about preferences around this illustration, or that or tweaking this recipe that way, or this way. It was just kind of a wonderful, unexpected collaboration. I mean, I've never formally cooperated with my mom on anything. And then we went on book tour together and spent a whole lot of time together. There was obviously an opportunity coming off of the book, My Pantry to write something else, and I think more of an audience than I would have had otherwise. But there was also this renewed interest from me since at the time, I was studying art history. An interest to look at this relationship, which I realized was the main and most dominant and most impactful relationship in my life no matter where I was living in the world.

Katie Hafner :

Oh, that, it comes across loud and clear in the book such an incredible ode. I have to say, oh, you use that word that I can never pronounce, peaen?

Fanny Singer :

I yeah, I had to read the book in audio version. I think that was probably one of the words where I was like, do I know exactly how to pronounce that. Payin? Peeyon?

Katie Hafner :

In tribute to to your mother. And it's so moving. And so what I'd like to do first is have you do a little bit of reading. I've been thinking about how to introduce this. I think that cooking and food while cooking for people is really the ultimate act of love. And I think a lot of people would agree with me and one of my very favorite films is Babette's Feast.

Fanny Singer :

One of the greats.

Katie Hafner :

One of the greats and just really quick, do you want to give a quick precis or should I of this movie?

Fanny Singer :

I forget what it is that that brings Babette to this what nunnery or monastery you know, somewhere in coastal France? She was a, she used to be a restauranteur in Paris, right and then I mean I haven't seen this film and so long, but it's practically like etched into my spirit. And then she, but she seeks shelter refuge with these nuns and she wins a lottery I think towards the first day after they take, they have no idea that she's, that she was a cook, you know, she was a professional cook. And she uses every last cent of her winnings to produce this extraordinary feast. And it's like the most extraordinary sort of esoteric French, over the top food of that time, you know it would have been like all kinds of seafood and like urchins and lobsters and oysters and these foods that are associated with like hedonism and, and they just experience this, this transformative meal.

Katie Hafner :

What's amazing is that she spends days and days and days preparing this feast and then it's eaten. And this to me whenever I make a big meal for people, I think this is I you know, I'm like channeling Babette here. And so what I wanted to ask you to read is to illustrate the act of love that not just preparing food, but giving it. I mean this generous act on her part, on Babette's part for these two sisters or nuns or I wanted to ask you to read the peeling fruit bit. So, why don't you introduce it and read away.

Fanny Singer :

Um, I didn't want to just tell the story of my mother in a broader, more general way. I felt like the way to tell this story about her was to to keep things quite focused around what were largely food, memories. Probably of all the stories, the peeling fruit is one that gets, that strips things down to the real essence of who my mother is. And so this this is a kind of account of what the end of most meals was like for, for us in our house. One of the most distinctive things about my mother is her hands. But I would imagine that the hands of anyone's mother would seem distinctive to them. Those are the hands after all that soothes us throughout so much of our childhood and change our diapers and swaddle us and comb our hair and apply unwanted sunscreen and antiseptic and band aids and put our clothes, put on our clothes and tie our shoelaces. But there's something about the way my mom uses hers, which is to say with total conviction and without fear that makes them seem so unordinary. Her hands are a sort of mirror of her determination. I would have registered some horror in how brazenly she thrust her hands into something and how unvexed she seemed by whatever residue it left behind. She also more often than not, but at some point during the meal jettisoned her silverware and delved in with her fingers. Her fingers told her what the mind and mouth would take longer to compute. Was the crust crunchy enough? Was the fish cooked through? Was the salad amply or underdressed? And there is a portrait of my mother's hands that is most etched into my mind it is the way she holds a piece of fruit that she deftly slips the skin from its flesh. Our dining table has always had a bowl placed at its center containing some variety of fruit. Whatever was at its seasonal peak. This constituted dessert in our house. I can hear the phrase ringing in my ears almost incantatory, 'Fran, can you get me a sharp knife and a small plate please?' The fact that she trusted me to select and carry a dangerous object, even when I was quite small made this daily ritual exciting, or at least memorable, and she would feel around the fruit bowl as if blindly feeling around in the dark, selecting only the perfect pear, or the finest apple or the sweetest fig. The best specimen would be chosen and then a period of readying it for the mouth of family or guests would ensue. She did and still does many things very quickly. But here the moment would elongate as she methodically relieved, a peach of its fuzzy sheath or shimmied a ripe pear from it's bitter, gritty skin. If the quality of the selection was in any way in doubt, she would sample it before offering it away. Otherwise, she would slice the thing into perfect crescents and depending on the company either directly offer these fruit looms to our mouths. I, her primary beneficiary or array them on a plate to be passed around. There's something almost outlandishly generous about the act of offering away the best of something. We humans are so innately selfish, rather than keeping it for yourself. And yet it was always like that with her. She would allow herself only a piece of the second best peach, the subpar pear, the plum that needed another day. It was like that with everything really. The perfect morsel of lobster claws slid from its pincer shell. Anything that took effort that might be messy, but whose taste was a reward. She would do the dirty work and turning to me give it away. It was as if she was saying, I've been here before. I sipped the ambrosia, it's your turn now. I do wonder whether this is typical of motherhood or the love that attends that role. I can't yet venture an opinion but I suspect the impulse is more driving in my moms case than most.

Katie Hafner :

Thank you. I love this notion of her implying by giving it to you, I've experienced this joy, I want you to have it. Well, let's, so let's start with her childhood. She was born in New Jersey. Is that right?

Fanny Singer :

Yeah, that's right.

Katie Hafner :

What do you know about her own mom? And did you? Did you know her mom?

Fanny Singer :

I did. Yes, I, I had, I had two grandmothers named Marge, on both sides of my family. My mom's mother was named Margaret and my dad's mother's name Marjorie. But they were both Marge, very grandmotherly name that I just feel like I don't know anyone called that anymore. But she, I knew my grandparents very well on my mom's side because they lived in Berkeley. And they moved up to Berkeley from LA, I think, after all of the daughters had graduated high school. My mom is one of four daughters. And she's the second eldest. I never thought of her as having I mean, she was so unlike my mom, my grandmother, she was very sort of deferential and easygoing, and not very opinionated, and very, very kind. And so I can't really speak so much to what my mother's childhood would have been like with her except for my mother does credit her with kind of the germ of some of her obsessive focus on local sustainable agriculture because my grandmother did plant a Victory Garden.

Katie Hafner :

Victory Garden in the sense of after the war -

Fanny Singer :

- Well, yeah, during and after the war, they had this garden that they planted to just supplement their food supply, which was something that of course the government actively advocated. And so a lot of families ripped up their lawns and planted gardens and food producing gardens, which my mom actually did at the beginning of the pandemic. We always had some free grain in the back garden, but she ripped up the entirely ornamental front garden and planted food in the front yard, too. So there is now a very active Victory Garden going on at the Berkeley house.

Katie Hafner :

So your grandmother, Marge, well Marge, maternal side, Marge, she wasn't a cook? Was a cook?

Fanny Singer :

No, not really. Yeah, I mean, you know, they, my grandparents, they were really in this kind of hippie healthfood phase by the time I came on the scene, so there was lots of crunchy sprouts and sprouted bread and whole wheat grains and absolutely no fat and like no butter, and they were kind of reformed 50s cooks who had found their way to Berkeley into this health food fad. And it was at that point, kind of a burgeoning organic scene but a little bit of a hangover from like the 70s comm-, 60s, 70s commune cooking, which was not my mom's, you know, my mom was never very interested in the cult- that food culture. Her interest in food was sparked really in France and she was there in her 20s.

Katie Hafner :

Berkeley back then, I do think, you know, a lot of wheat germ I guess-

Fanny Singer :

- Mhm. My God, my grandfather's pancakes were like half wheat germ, I think. I mean I loved them, but there was so much wheat germ.

Katie Hafner :

Alright, so we've established that your mom, it, she didn't get this from her mom. She goes to France while a student at Berkeley, right?

Fanny Singer :

Yes. So she started at UC Santa Barbara. And then I think it was kind of mid or after sophomore year, I think she was like, what's it all this action at UC Berkeley, Santa Barbara is asleep. And she was really involved in activism in her college days. So she moved up to Berkeley in the middle of the Vietnam War protests and just immediately sank into that. And got involved in the Free Speech Movement, especially. And so she, I think she was 20 or 21, when she went to France to study with French cultural studies as her major. And then really, that's what woke her up to the idea of, I think cooking. Although, it wasn't the thing that she did immediately when she came back. She just was obsessed with eating food that was, that tasted like that and meeting people who were similarly impassioned, and also finding ingredients in California that bore some resemblance to the things that were grown locally and eaten immediately in the little local restaurants in France.

Katie Hafner :

And then started Chez Panisse in 1971?

Fanny Singer :

That's right.

Katie Hafner :

As a, as a way to feed her friends?

Fanny Singer :

Basically, I think it was like wanted to, wanted to experiment with cooking the things that the dishes that she'd really fallen in love with in France and wanted to have a place where her friends especially because of the Free Speech Movement, and that was the kind of ethos behind Chez Panisse was that it was a place that people could gather and that there was there was real political power in doing so, whether it was the more tacit active, you know, as my mom always says eating is a political act, you know, even making the choices of what you eat is itself a commitment to a kind of, you know, ethical set of values, you know. And then there's also the, the actual fact of having a place that was open for all of these activists. And that's how it became this place that was a kind of nexus, I think, for a number of different movements that were burgeoning in the Bay Area at that time.

Katie Hafner :

And then it took off that the rest is literally history. I'd like to fast forward a bit to, to when you entered the picture, which of course involves your dad, and they met and had this whirlwind romance-

Fanny Singer :

-Mhm.

Katie Hafner :

In like the early 80s?

Fanny Singer :

Yeah, early 80s.

Katie Hafner :

And then you arrived on the scene, which is the sweetest story, prematurely. She had been, tell me about the lobster and how you, that's why you love lobster. Just quick, as quickly as you can, but I love this story so much.

Fanny Singer :

So she, I mean, first she had traveled when she was like five and a half or six months pregnant to China, and, and also Taiwan and Japan. And my mom kind of ate and drank everything. So, all kinds of potential future distinct sort of, how should I say it, flares of my palate, I think were attributable to that in utero trip to to Asia. But then not too long after she was catering or helping to cook anyways for a wedding of her very dear friend in New York, and my mom was grilling lobster, and she was seven months pregnant. She could just feel me doing some kind of gymnastic somersaults inside her, her belly and she just thought, Oh, no, this is like, this can't be good.

Katie Hafner :

This kid wants lobster.

Fanny Singer :

This kid wants out. This kid wants. Yeah. And I and indeed, she was correct. Because I would then spend the next 37 odd years chasing good lobster. But, I was born just a few days later when she was back in California.

Katie Hafner :

And you were what? Four pounds?

Fanny Singer :

I was very small. I was about four pounds. Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

So, there you are in her life and-

Fanny Singer :

-a large lobster.

Katie Hafner :

Like a large. Yeah, right. A good sized lobster. You have a great line in the book where you say, you know, I had this boyfriend once, or maybe he was just a friend, I don't know, you'll have to correct me said, you know, you're the only offspring of a famous person who isn't like totally fucked up.

Fanny Singer :

But yeah, it was actually this- it was a friend in London, a colleague, and as it was somewhat older colleague named Amanda. She said exactly that. And I and I think I'd already sort of written that part of the book, and I just thought this has to go in there. Because it really is, it really feels it feels kind of true. You know, I mean, I mean, I often think about relationships between famous parents and children, and how difficult a relationship, it can be, and how vexed and how, what a struggle it is, I think to kind of find your own path and your own voice. And, you know, it's either I have friends who with famous parents who were just sort of blindly devoted to their parent, and in this way that doesn't feel healthy. And then kind of the total opposite, complete and utter alienation. I don't know how we did it exactly, but there is, I think, I think my mom and I have a pretty healthy relationship.

Katie Hafner :

It's so clear. Well, I have a I think there's a clue to it, which is the note that you said that she writes to you every single year on your birthday, and says you are the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.

Fanny Singer :

Yes. I think I'm going to start like erupting in tears hearing you say that.

Katie Hafner :

You know, you have to wonder what makes that, what makes a relationship like that? And I think well, it's it was it was her mom. She made sure that you were the that you knew that you were not only the best thing that had ever happened, but that you knew it, but also, it was partly your personality, In that you kind of got it, the, this the symbiosis between the two of you is so clearly laid out in the book. And it's just it's, there's reverence for sure. But there's also a total sense of humor at her expense, sometimes, which is very sweet. One of the stories that I really want, well, let's before we get well, actually, you were still a child. So, you tell you talk about your childhood. And obviously there's the part that you just read about sort of, the watching food be prepared, hanging around shape the knees, hanging around at the bar ordering like just foamed milk. I mean, it's clearly you know, you're in this rarefied place. And you kind of go with the flow a lot. That's my sense.

Fanny Singer :

Mhm. People ask me all the time, for instance, like how did you rebel? What would you know, your teenage years? Weren't they difficult and challenging? And didn't you ever want to say fuck you, fuck off. And I was not the easiest teenager I wasn't it wasn't seamless. I was going through a difficult time, or especially around my parents divorce, which was around when I was 13, 14. But, I think my mom figured out basically, and I say this a lot, because I think it's an important point that she could continue to make food for me that would express things in a way that, you know, that circumvented language that didn't have to be articulated in some very obvious and clear way that I might have repudiated, you know, as a teenager was like, no one wants to turn down something that's made with love, you know, that's delicious. It's a kind of seduction. And I think my mom understood that, the value of having these sort of super lingual interactions, you know, and so every time she would send me anything, it was also a message.

Katie Hafner :

But you got the message you didn't-

Fanny Singer :

Oh, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I never, it's not like I didn't eat McDonald's when I was like a teenager to try it. But I never wanted it.

Katie Hafner :

Well you actually, you say that there weren't many acts of rebellion on your part. Definitely not against the food. However, you have a great scene about when you were, I don't know how old you were you were. You went to France and living with a host family. You discovered Twix?

Fanny Singer :

Oh, yes. Yes. My love affair with Twix.

Katie Hafner :

You found the big stash of Twix?

Fanny Singer :

Oh, yeah.

Katie Hafner :

In their house and you would take one every night get a stepladder and take-

Fanny Singer :

-Oh, yeah, it was took me a while to find it.

Katie Hafner :

That's, it's a great story. And also their, their taste. With the exception of the, of the watercress soup. Did you call your mom and say you're not gonna believe what these people eat?

Fanny Singer :

Well, yeah, I'm sure I did. I mean, I talked to her just, a ridiculous amount of time when I was on that trip because I was so homesick. So then it seemed natural, I think for the mom to just make us these very simple kind of bad sandwiches of butter, and ham and potato chips and twix. But when she realized how much I liked food, she did take me to the farmers markets. And we just cooked these amazing meals together. And one of the most memorable culinary moments of my life was that watercress soup that she made, it was just extraordinary.

Katie Hafner :

And then you went home and said, mom, we've got, mom, we've got to make this right?

Fanny Singer :

Yes, exactly. We've never, we've been chasing it ever since you know, delicious, but never quite as authentic.

Katie Hafner :

Your mom and her, she has such maternal instincts, that there's this wonderful thing where you say that when she goes to a place, any place, she has almost rituals that she performs to make these things even if she's there for a night or two, to make them seem like home. Tell me what some of them are.

Fanny Singer :

It's always first things first, it's like what is the sense that's most violated by a bad, you know, environment. It's usually smell, right? Like if you walk into a place and it smells stale, or smells a little moldy or like and so my mom will start with the burning of the rosemary or making the chicken stock. Those are like the two things that her, are her kind of go to aroma therapy.

Katie Hafner :

Right, exactly. And she makes the chickens stock, which is just such, it is the ultimate act of love.

Fanny Singer :

Well, my mom did make chickens stock sometimes without invitation for me in my own home. There was a visi- times- when she would visit me in Brooklyn. I had this apartment after college and it was like a classic kind of railroad apartment and the only windows, the only access to actual air, which because of course there's no vent in our kitchen, which was this one corner of the living room was through the bedrooms that the front and the back of the house, so even though I like the way chicken stock smells when it's boiling, there's also, it's less pleasant when it's like infused your pillow and everyday so that you're sleeping in a kind of like bouillon scent and you know my roommate, she was like what is up with your mom, man? Like, what is she doing? And she would like produce a chicken upon entry and like immediately start making a stock.

Katie Hafner :

Pull it out of her clown bag where many things would come out right.

Fanny Singer :

Exactly. Just tell me quickly about her bag. Well yeah, I mean my mom is a, my mom is a very tidy person but they're you know one look in her purse would suggest otherwise. I once discovered a desiccated two year old piece of octopus in it when I was cleaning it out from a trip she'd taken to Japan and-

Katie Hafner :

- See, this scene is better you and your were, quote, organizing her purse for her. And you discovered this thing. And you're smelling it, and you go, mom, I think there's some octopus in your purse, and she's reading a book. And she says oh, no, no, no. And she just-

Fanny Singer :

Exactly Yes. And I was, you know, I was in the process of like, organizing business cards, and like recapping lipsticks and stuff, and then I found this thing I was like, this is fish. And in fact, it was fish. It was fish that was, had been in her purse for I think, close to two years. It was this piece of octopus that she hadn't been able to swallow when she and my father were at this very fancy restaurant in Tokyo.

Katie Hafner :

I've been thinking a lot about nature and nurture. And, you know, here you are, you a lot of it, you take in, as you say, osmotically, a lot of her, her preferences and the way she does things. And just the way she approaches food, one of the nature nurture questions, I wanted to ask you was this business about the baking? And you say it well, and you say it kind of like, it's just a stated fact, we're both terrible bakers and you say it's because neither of us really loves the precision and I mean, is it in your nature to be a bad baker? Or is it sort of something that is like, okay, my mom's a bad baker, I think I am, too.

Fanny Singer :

No, I think it's really in this case, I think, no doubt nurture had something to do with it because the total absence of baking meant that I never even tried to hone that craft, you know, but there is, I think, something really innate. And I think it is nature more than it is a question of nurture, just because we both have these, these qualities of our character. And also, I think just the way that our senses were. I was really struck by this thing that I think it was Ruth Reichl was talking in our early interview, right after my book came out. She had, Ruth was interviewing us for the 92nd Street Y. And she was talking about how her mother actually never really tasted anything while she was cooking. She just was a fabulous cook. But she just knew by the smell of things, how, whether it was working, whether it was good. And I was like, oh, man, that's how I cook. And because I can smell even like salt and pepper, I think you know, like how much of it there is. And that's where you get totally foiled by baking. Because you're, you can't really smell the difference between the right amount and wrong amount of flour.

Katie Hafner :

So then along came the pandemic, where were you living at the time?

Fanny Singer :

I had an apartment in San Francisco. I moved back from London about three years ago, it was a one bedroom flat on the third floor in this, like in the Mission District, there was no green space. And I also was quite concerned about my mom and her being in her mid 70s. And how she was going to provision and who is going to take care of various practical things for her. And on top of that was launching my book, which came out basically a couple weeks after the shelter in place order. And there was going to be so many demands, like virtual book tour with her too. So, I just, it seemed like the most sensible thing initially to move in with her. And that's where I have largely remained for the last seven months. So it's been, we've been in a period of cohabitation, that I, nothing, you know, like anything that I have experienced with her as an adult. Certainly in the last, since I left home when I was 18.

Katie Hafner :

And to acquaint yourself with your mother in a way you hadn't experienced -

Fanny Singer :

-totally.

Katie Hafner :

as a, as an adult.

Fanny Singer :

Yeah, it's a very different, It feels like this very precious moment. You know, I, I plan to have kids in the next couple years, and I don't yet and so there's this moment where we're definitely transitioning into a kind of reshuffling of a, of that hierarchy of care or like the direction of care. But we're not totally there yet, in this sort of interesting limbo, where we can both really give things to each other. And it feels like there's a lot of reciprocity in the relationship.

Katie Hafner :

And are there, is there something that you've learned about her that you, that really came as a surprise to you?

Fanny Singer :

Not really, no, I mean, if anything it is just sort of distilled or amplified her tendencies. She's very concerned about not necessarily just the future of Chez Panisse as an institution or the legacy but about the actual people who work in that restaurant, who are the family, including all the farmers who produce for Chez Panisse.

Katie Hafner :

And did she begin to appreciate the way you cook?

Fanny Singer :

Totally. I mean, now she like looks at me as she zests a lemon onto everything. She's like, always better, secret ingredient.

Katie Hafner :

Have there been any other role reversals for you guys?

Fanny Singer :

Yeah, I mean, I think it's a very emotionally, psychically, taxing time and I think there's just been a real kind of, it's not always one direction, there's just the kind of like sometimes one of us seems to really be comforted and given a kind of mothering really. And then sometimes it's the other way around. And that's been I mean, that's certainly unusual. I've never felt like I've been in the position to administer that kind of help or care or just yes, it's been a really traumatic moment. And yeah, especially for someone who never imagined that her livelihood would be, you know, under threat and a restaurant that's coming up on 50 years in 2021, to just have so much doubt, cast over its future is an existential question.

Katie Hafner :

So you say you plan to have a child in the next couple of years? What, what do you want to hand down to your child that your mother gave to you?

Fanny Singer :

I think that the most important thing, at least the most relevant thing for me is this, this question of unconditional love. Nothing you could do, could make your, your parent not love you in this all encompassing way. And I think there's a quality to that kind of affection that if it's done, right, you know, in a way that doesn't feel oppressive, it's just, there's just constancy to it. I think it gives the kid a kind of confidence to do anything, to be whoever they are. And that's certainly how I would define my mother's relationship to me and her total absence of expectation and acceptance of whatever I was going to do in my life, but just the steadfastness of her, of her love.

Katie Hafner :

It really gets to, you know, these intergenerational, something intergenerational was given to her that she gave to you, which you will give to your child. That's my, my guess. All the forms and manifestations that love can take and it's like she just knew, knew how to do it. She knew how to love you.

Fanny Singer :

Yeah, I think that's a really great point to end on even that, that was, she had the key. She had the cipher.

Katie Hafner :

Well, I want to thank you so much, Fanny. Really, what a pleasure.

Fanny Singer :

Thank you so much for having me, Katie. It's been really lovely to speak to you about that wonderful, difficult, amazing woman I call mom.

Katie Hafner :

And that's it this week for Our Mothers Ourselves. Our theme song is composed and performed by Andrea Perry. Paula Mangin is our artist in residence. And the show's producer is Alice Hudson. If you'd like to contribute a word to the audio word montage that begins each episode, record one word to describe your mother and send it us at [email protected] Our Mothers Ourselves is a production of Odradek Studios. I'm Katie Hafner and I'm your host. Have a safe week and maybe treat yourself to something yummy to eat. [[Rosie Manock, our intern, proofread the transcript for the show and takes charge of our social media.]]