Montessori Alumni Stories - Julia Child and Alice Waters

It may not be a surprise to know that both Julia Child, chef, and Alice Waters, chef, activist, and restaurateur, were proponents of Montessori philosophy. Julia Child attended a Montessori school, and Alice Waters trained to be a Montessori teacher.

Julia Child wrote in her book, Julia Child and Company, that her Montessori education taught her to love working with her hands. For those who enjoyed watching and learning from Julia Child, there is another quality of Montessori she personifies: being friendly with error. She certainly showed us how to recover from what we might first believe to be disastrous. Her essential confidence in her self and her abilities allowed her to shrug off the times her efforts fell short, but also not to be discouraged by the unexpected result.

Alice Waters had a dream of a restaurant but needed to support herself to attain that dream. She was intrigued by Montessori practice of learning by doing and using the senses, so she enrolled in Montessori training in London in 1958. She writes of her affinity for the philosophy and how she used the principles of beauty and order in her restaurant. She says, “Making things look and feel beautiful is important to Montessori pedagogy. The idea is to make the classroom so inviting that the kids come into it and immediately want to explore. In the same way, later on, I wanted Chez Panisse to be enticing to people from the moment they walked through the front door—I wanted to awaken their senses.”

Alice Waters embodied something else important to Montessori pedagogy: authenticity. As her restaurant and cookbooks became more influential, she turned her attention to gardening in education and was at the forefront of garden to table activity in her Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley. She says of the team that transformed a portable building to a kitchen classroom, “We made sure there were always flowers on the tables, and that all the knives and kitchen tools were laid out neatly, the vegetables and fruits of the moment arranged at the entrance. When the kids walked in the room, they knew right away something special had been done for them… they know they are loved. Beauty is the language of care.”

In Montessori’s words: “The child should live in an environment of beauty.”

And as a postscript, people who knew Maria Montessori write about her pleasure in cooking and enjoying food with her friends. The children at Mater Amoris understand this, too, and you can see the pleasure they feel when they welcome a visitor to the classroom with their guest book or serve one of the teachers a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Please visit to see!

Barbara Heikkinen