Alice Waters ''would not darken the door of a McDonald's, either for irony's sake or as opposition research,'' Thomas McNamee writes in his fawning, amusing Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Instead, after Waters returned from a life-changing trip to France as a student in the mid-1960s, she carried around a ''life-support kit'' that included ''olive oil, a bottle of vinegar, a loaf of bread, a little bag of salad, and some cheese.'' In 1971, the petite, seductive, and stylish Waters and some friends opened the restaurant Chez Panisse in a ramshackle Berkeley, Calif., house. There, for 36 years, Waters has honed her culinary philosophy, based on pristine seasonal ingredients, preferably from local organic farms. While depicting Waters as a manipulative perfectionist, McNamee lauds her attempts to revolutionize the American diet (she even sows vegetable gardens at an urban public school). But he never neglects the torrid affairs, rivalries, drinking, and drugging that went on behind the scenes. This won't be the last dish on Waters, but it will tide us over until something more substantial arrives. B+
For Jennifer Reese's take on another recently published biography of a hard-driving culinary evangelist, see Julia Child.