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What Judy Rodgers Meant to American Cuisine

What Judy Rodgers Meant to American Cuisine


The respected and well-loved chef-restaurateur, of San Francisco's Zuni Café, succumbed to cancer on Dec. 2

She wasn't a superstar TV chef and she didn't have a line of cookware or spice rubs; she didn't own a dozen restaurants or hang out with movie stars. She was a chef and a cook and a restaurant owner, and she quietly won the hearts and excited the palates of just about everyone who ever ate her food.

A native of St. Louis, Judy Rodgers had an early taste of great cuisine when, as a teenage exchange student, she ended up lodging with a Burgundian family named Troisgros. She moved to Northern California to study art history at Stanford, and one night dined at Chez Panisse. There, she fell into conversation with Alice Waters about her experiences with the Troisgros clan, and Waters suggested that she sign on as a chef at the legendary Berkeley restaurant. Marion Cunningham later hired her to cook at the historic Union Hotel in Benicia, a bayside community slightly to the north.

In 1979, a food lover named Billy West opened a casual restaurant on Market Street in San Francisco, which he dubbed Zuni Café. In 1987, he brought Rodgers on as chef. After West's death in 1994, Rodgers took over operation of the place. Her old Chez Panisse colleague Gilbert Pilgram joined Zuni as her partner in 2006.

Rodgers' menu was religiously seasonal, but the basics never changed very much: impeccable oysters, house-cured anchovies with celery and Parmigiano, a definitive Caesar salad, and above all a brick-oven-roasted chicken for two, with bread salad and greens, and at lunchtime a pizza with Wagon Wheel Cheddar and an irresistible grass-fed burger on grilled rosemary focaccia were always on offer, and never failed to delight. Zuni was one of those restaurants that everybody who knew and appreciated real food — as opposed to trendy fodder — always went whenever they came to San Francisco.

We asked some of her longtime friends and admirers to say a few words about why she was so important to American cuisine.

"Judy was a dedicated chef, a true lover of food and life, and a pioneer who never thought of herself as one. She championed California in all its goodness, and the fact that she stayed true to one restaurant, her vision, for more than 25 years speaks volumes about her commitment."
— Barbara Fairchild, former editor of Bon Appétit

"She was the soul of urban rustic cooking; the chef who figured out how to transplant village flavors into a big city kitchen without compromise. I'm not sure I've been to the Bay Area in 25 years without stopping by Zuni at least once. And of course, the Zuni Café Cookbook is probably the best cookbook ever written by a working chef. I am on my third copy."
— Jonathan Gold, restaurant critic

"In this time of mega-chefs with multiple restaurants in Las Vegas and beyond, when aspiring and established chefs alike vie for places on competitive TV shows with names like Cook You’re A** Off, when chefs think of themselves as brands rather than cooks, Judy Rodgers stood out as true north. She and [Zuni] co-owner Gilbert Pilgram ran one of the best restaurants in the country. It is the first restaurant I head for when I find myself in San Francisco. Everything tastes exactly as it should, the real thing or even better, just like her. My copy of her great cookbook is dog-eared. Through her great generosity, I've learned so much and eaten so well. Thank you, Judy."
— Christopher Hirsheimer, author, photographer, editor

"Judy Rodgers accomplished what few American chefs/restaurateurs did: She had one restaurant, one definitive cookbook, and one culinary philosophy, all well-thought out and honed over time. She ran deep. Authentic. Singular."
— Dorothy Kalins, author and editor, founding editor-in-chief of Saveur

"Of course Judy's roast chicken is immortal. But the reasons it’s the single best recipe for something so simple show why Judy’s genius: she was meticulous in every detail, and knew that the difference between good and great wasn’t just finding the best artisanal ingredient or adding another stick of butter (in her case, first-press Umbrian olive oil). It was trying every technique and timing the pre-salting to come up with the very best flavor. That passion for and nervous perfectionism paradoxically made Zuni Café rock-solid reliable time after time while seemingly the most casual place in the world."
— Corby Kummer, restaurant critic, writer, editor

"Judy Rodgers and her Zuni Café redefined casual California dining. Zuni continues to embody the seamless joining of social ease and culinary precision — an accomplishment that's much harder to pull off than it looks (because Zuni does it with such grace)."
— Tom McNamee, author

"Judy was a leader in the wine and food business for all of her adult life. She quietly made history for over 40 years in her roles at Chez Panisse, the Union Hotel, and, for the past three decades, Zuni Café. I've enjoyed her food in all three of these lives, but more importantly I've enjoyed Judy's humor, her self-deprecating wisdom, and her noble approach to her profession. She was an extraordinary talent."
— Bruce Neyers, wine salesman and winemaker

"One if my strongest memories of Judy is of her time at the Union Hotel. I kept hearing about this brilliant woman chef, so I ate there and had to agree. Of course, many, many Zuni meals later just confirmed my impression. She kept it simple delicious and beautiful."
— Cindy Pawlcyn, chef-restaurateur

"I first met Judy when she was the lunch chef at Chez Panisse. Her job was to go in every morning and figure out what to make with the ingredients she found in the kitchen. She loved the adventure — never quite knowing what she would find — and I think that's why Marion Cunningham hired her to work at the Union Hotel in Benicia, one of the pioneering institutions in what was to become the American food movement. In the '70s and '80s, Judy was among the handful of few women chefs breaking into the male-dominated restaurant world. But she always had her own vision; from the beginning her food was unadorned and deeply flavorful. She was intent on coaxing every drop of flavor from her food; she was brining her meat and poultry long before that was a trend, and curing her own anchovies. And despite her initial training, living with the Troisgros family as an exchange student, she had a very American outlook; 'We'll always have a burger and a Caesar salad on the menu at Zuni,' she once told me. But it might have been Judy's attitude, even more than her food, that set her apart. Remarkably modest and extraordinarily generous, she mentored so many people. She never became a superstar — it just wasn't in her nature — but she leaves behind a super legacy. With her casually careful food, she very literally changed the notion of what American food can be."
— Ruth Reichl, author, former editor-in-chief, Gourmet

"Judy Rodgers arrived at Chez Panisse when she was 22. Although I was many years her senior, Judy had at a tender age worked in a three-star French restaurant and thought about food in a completely creative and personal way. I admired that about her. Then when she went on to open Zuni Café she took that knowledge of classic French and Italian cooking and created something completely new and exciting: the contemporary American bistro. That was the brilliance of Zuni and still is. Judy set a tone of simplicity and taste that has lasted the test of time. Her Zuni Café Cookbook is a constant source of inspiration for me because it expresses so perfectly her generous and artistic sense about food."
— Alice Waters, chef-restaurateur, activist

"Judy Rogers was the quiet giant of American cooking. She was smart, passionate, and totally unafraid to pursue her own path. She was truly an amazing cook and chef. We will miss her."
— Jonathan Waxman, chef-restaurateur


This is the ideal way to use up extra egg whites when I’ve made mayo or cured eggs. Less a dessert than a confection and similar to American macaroons, these sweet and sticky little treats come together in just minutes. As an added bonus, they are gluten-free.

Makes 12-14
desiccated coconut 260g, or more as needed
brown sugar 130g
granulated sugar 130g
egg whites 4 large
dark chocolate 140g, minimum 50% cacao solids
flaky sea salt 1 tsp, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with baking paper.

Cook the coconut, brown sugar, granulated sugar and egg whites in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugars have melted. If the mixture is too runny to shape by the spoonful, add more coconut.

Using 2 soup spoons, drop heaped tablespoonfuls of the coconut mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 5cm apart. They do not have to be perfect, but try to make them about the same size.

Bake until the coconut mounds are golden brown, 18-20 minutes. Let stand on the baking sheets until completely cool.

Bring about 2.5cm of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Turn the heat to low so the water is barely simmering. Place a glass or metal bowl over the pan. Coarsely chop the chocolate and put in the bowl. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally, until it is almost, but not completely, melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and let the chocolate stand, stirring often, until fully melted and slightly cooled and thickened.

The bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the simmering water as the chocolate melts. If the chocolate gets too hot, it can become grainy.

One at a time, dip the bottom of each cookie into the chocolate, just so the chocolate comes about 3mm up the sides of the cookie. Transfer the cookies to a plate, chocolate side up. Before the chocolate sets, sprinkle with the salt. Refrigerate the cookies until the chocolate hardens, about 15 minutes, then turn them upright and cover with clingfilm or transfer to a covered container. Store in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature.

Sprinkle chopped nuts, ground freeze-dried berries or extra desiccated coconut over the chocolate just after dipping them in the melted chocolate, if you like.
From Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi (Ebury Press, £27)


Andrew Friedman | Excerpt adapted from Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession | Ecco | February 2018 | 17 minutes (4,560 words)

He spent his last pennies on brown rice and vegetables, cooking them for strangers who shuttled him around. Just in time, people started feeding him.

You could begin this story in any number of places, so why not in the back of a dinged-up VW van parked on a Moroccan camping beach, a commune of tents and makeshift domiciles? It’s Christmas 1972. Inside the van is Bruce Marder, an American college dropout. He’s a Los Angelino, a hippy, and he looks the part: Vagabonding for six months has left him scrawny and dead broke. His jeans are stitched together, hanging on for dear life. Oh, and this being Christmas, somebody has gifted him some LSD, and he’s tripping.

The van belongs to a couple — French woman, Dutch man — who have taken him in. It boasts a curious feature: a built-in kitchen. It’s not much, just a set of burners and a drawer stocked with mustard and cornichons. But they make magic there. The couple has adventured as far as India, amassing recipes instead of Polaroids, sharing memories with new friends through food. To Marder, raised in the Eisenhower era on processed, industrialized grub, each dish is a revelation. When the lid comes off a tagine, he inhales the steam redolent of an exotic and unfamiliar herb: cilantro. The same with curry, also unknown to him before the van.

Like a lot of his contemporaries, Marder fled the United States. “People wanted to get away,” he says. Away from the Vietnam War. Away from home and the divorce epidemic. The greater world beckoned, the kaleidoscopic, tambourine-backed utopia promised by invading British rockers and spiritual sideshows like the Maharishi. The price of admission was cheap: For a few hundred bucks on a no-frills carrier such as Icelandic Airlines — nicknamed “the Hippie Airline” and “Hippie Express” — you could be strolling Piccadilly Circus or the Champs-Élysées, your life stuffed into a backpack, your Eurail Pass a ticket to ride.

Marder flew to London alone, with $800 and a leather jacket to his name, and improvised, crashing in parks and on any friendly sofa and — if he couldn’t score any of that — splurging on a hostel. He let himself go, smoking ungodly amounts of pot, growing his hair out to shoulder length. In crowds, he sensed kindred spirits, young creatures of the road, mostly from Spain and Finland. Few Americans.

Food, unexpectedly, dominated life overseas. Delicious, simple food that awakened his senses and imagination. Amsterdam brought him his first french fries with mayonnaise: an epiphany. The souks (markets) of Marrakech, with their food stalls and communal seating, haunt him. Within five months, he landed on that camping beach, in Agadir, still a wasteland after an earthquake twelve years prior. He lived on his wits: Back home, he’d become fluent in hippy cuisine now he spent his last pennies on brown rice and vegetables, cooking them for strangers who shuttled him around. Just in time, people started feeding him, like the couple in whose van he was nesting. Food was as much a part of life on the beach as volleyball and marijuana. People cooked for each other, spinning the yarns behind the meals — where they’d picked them up and what they meant in their native habitats. Some campers developed specializations, like the tent that baked cakes over an open burner. Often meals were improvised: You’d go to town, buy a pail, fill it with a chicken, maybe some yogurt, or some vegetables and spices, and figure out what to do with it when you got back.

Marder might as well have been on another planet. “This was so un-American at that time,” he says.

He was supposed to become a dentist, but his heart was never in it it was just one of those non-dreams foisted on him and his friends by tradition-bound elders. Back in L.A., he’d been a stoner, but a motivated one, laying the groundwork for independence — caddying, pumping gas, anything for a buck. And so he was primed for a course correction when he dropped acid that Christmas and a new, previously unimaginable path materialized: “I’m sitting in the back of the van and I’m whacked out,” Marder says. “I’m always thinking about my life. What am I going to do? Obviously I’m not going to be a dentist. I can’t go back to school and take organic chemistry. I just sit up and go, ‘God! I know what I want to do. This is what I want to do. I want to learn. I want to be a chef.’”

One of the comparisons I make today that illustrates the difference between then and now is back in the day you never would put your uniform on or anything that made you look like a cook on the way to work.

The dawn and rise of the American chef commenced when Americans, from coast to coast, and in large numbers, began voluntarily, enthusiastically cooking in restaurants for a living — a once forbidden and unrespected professional course — screw the consequences. Many started like Marder, spontaneously, rebelliously, often in isolation, with no idea there were others like them Out There. A few stuck their toes in the water in the 1960s, a few more in the 1970s, and then hordes jumped into the pool in the 1980s and ’90s, after which there was no looking back.

These weren’t the first American chefs, or even the first prominent ones. There had always been exceptions, like the astounding Edna Lewis, who for five years ending in 1954 had been the chef and a business partner at Café Nicholson in Midtown Manhattan— that she did this as both an African American and a woman in the 1950s is nothing short of miraculous. But those stories were few and far between, not part of an overarching national phenomenon. And the lower kitchen ranks were more often than not populated with lost souls who lacked ambition or the aptitude for a traditional career, weren’t pursuing a love of food and/or craft, or acting on Marder-like epiphanies, a version of which became a rite of passage for an entire generation. Professional cooking was viewed as menial, unskilled labor performed, often in unsavory conditions, by anonymous worker bees. The United States Department of Labor categorized chefs as domestics through 1976 when — after lobbying by the American Culinary Federation, who themselves required nudging by Louis Szathmary, the Hungarian American Chicago chef, writer, and television personality — it recognized them as professionals. Domestics suggests chauffeurs and housekeepers most Americans regarded cooks as something grittier.

“One of the comparisons I make today that illustrates the difference between then and now is back in the day you never would put your uniform on or anything that made you look like a cook on the way to work,” says San Francisco–based chef Jan Birnbaum, who started his career in New Orleans and New York. “Because it wasn’t a proud thing to be. You’re that guy behind the door who has no skill. He’s certainly not intellectual, and he probably is either a criminal or he’s amongst them. There’s just a whole lot of undesirable stuff. Today the streets of San Francisco, man, they proudly walk down the street all the time in full uniforms.” Even in France, historically the Western capital of fine dining, this stigma attached to the profession through the 1960s. Chefs were not renowned or celebrated at best, they were regarded as craftsmen. Alain Sailhac, who grew up in the mountain village of Millau, France, and would go on to become the chef of Le Cygne and Le Cirque in New York City, remembers the moment he first became enticed by the kitchen, in the mid-twentieth century: At age fourteen, at his brother’s wedding, he struck up a conversation with the chef, which sparked an interest he couldn’t shake.

“Why do you want to be a cook?” demanded his father, who wanted his son to take up the family’s glove-manufacturing business. Sailhac persisted until his dad relented, walked him into the town’s only one-star restaurant, where the chef was a World War I buddy. “Do you want to take my son?” asked the senior Sailhac. “He wants to be like you, a stupid chef.” (Even after he became a cook, Sailhac hid his profession from women if they learned he worked in a restaurant, he told them he was a chef de rang [dining room captain], which was more prestigious.)

Consider, too, Auguste Escoffier, whose crowning achievement, Le guide culinaire, first published in 1903, was the kitchen bible of its day. The book codified basic recipes and techniques, set forth a system for organizing the kitchen brigade, and recommended a front-of-house structure. Yet Nathan Myhrvold, author of a defining tome on modernist cuisine, unsentimentally dubs Escoffier “the Henry Ford of the conventional kitchen. . . . His masterwork was fundamentally motivated by gastronomy as a manufacturing process rather than as an art. . . . He was an artisan striving to run a factory rather than be an artist.”

So what happened? To impose biblical simplicity on the narrative would be dishonest there was no Garden of Eden, no aproned Adam and Eve from whom all future American chefs descended, no single moment that lit the fuse. The movement was scattershot but not coincidental, produced (Big Bang–style) by a confluence of events and phenomena: the Vietnam War and the resistance at home the counterculture easy access to travel the music, movies, and literature of the day drugs, including “the pill” and a new approach to restaurant cooking, to name the factors most often cited by those who were there as the ones that propelled them into the kitchen.

“It’s a universal mind,” says Thomas Keller, chef-owner of a restaurant empire founded on Yountville, California’s The French Laundry, of the national reach of those influences. “We all talk about universal minds and how people come up with the same idea relatively around the same period of time without having had conversations about it personally. They’re just doing the same thing.”

Jonathan Waxman, a California chef who has toggled back and forth between the coasts throughout his career, puts it slightly differently: “We all had the same acid flashback at the same time,” he says. “But each of us did it differently.”

It was a mission. I felt like we were discovering something. It was certainly important to us. This is very California and it can sound very pretentious and very hippy dippy, but our generation was about changing things, whether it was antiwar or whatever. Some people discovered that you can change things through food.

For those who could afford it, international travel beckoned. Some needed a break from the turmoil some craved new experiences and perspective, on the United States and themselves. An accidental by-product was that exposure to European attitudes toward food proved transformative to many.

“When you travel, you eat, and you’re eating preindustrialized food,” says Los Angeles chef Evan Kleiman, who today hosts the current-events radio program Good Food. “In Europe during the seventies, there was no such thing as frozen food. There was no such thing as industrialized products. There weren’t even supermarkets. So you were eating food that is akin to what people who grew up in America were eating pre–World War II. So you go there and you have this unbelievably pristine experience for very little money. There’s so much that’s evocative about it. And we’re all young so we’re all either finding people to go out with — I’m using the words go out loosely everybody’s hooking up, right? You’re out there, you’re either traveling with a boyfriend or girlfriend or you’re single and you’re meeting kids that are traveling from all over the world, and you’re having this sort of seminal experience that’s filled with sensuality. So you’re experiencing your own sexuality. You’re drinking wine. You’re eating food that’s two steps from the field, in a totally joyous, non-Puritanical, nonjudgmental way. For a lot of us it’s the first time that we’ve ever experienced food in this context. When we came back, I went to my mother: ‘I want to make the broccoli different but I need fresh garlic.’ And she’s like, ‘Fresh garlic? I have this garlic powder.’ And then what happens is slowly we start doing it.”

Overseas culinary epiphanies could be more or less divided into two categories. The first was everyday food as it was woven into daily life in France, Italy, and other popular European destinations of the time, the market culture that drove home cooking and unfussy, soulful bistro staples, all of which dovetailed perfectly with the hippy movement toward pure, “real” food in the United States. Much of the historical blood flows to Berkeley, because of the confluence of factors there, but similar strains were present elsewhere: “Among our friends who had nothing to do with the restaurant world, people were interested in cooking,” says New York City chef Michael Lomonaco. “And it wasn’t just that they were going to recipe swaps. I think a lot of this dates back to the hippies of the sixties, communal living, and the back-to-the-land movement, the back-to-the-farm movement. This purity of the late sixties, the early seventies. You have to look at it through this prism. People were weaving. People were making things with their hands. Texture. Ceramics was huge. Pottery classes. We were living in Brooklyn at the time. Park Slope had a kind of a Greenwich Village vibe to it. It had ceramic shops, and small bakeries were making breads and cakes and brownies and things that were more natural, with natural ingredients. There was a lot of talk of naturalness in food. I think that rippled through the culture. And everybody was kind of interested in food.”

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“I think that the hippies had a lot to do with it,” says former Stanford Court pastry chef Jim Dodge, who grew up in a family resort and hotel business in Vermont. “They weren’t the best cooks but they were looking for pure, pure ingredients, organic ingredients, good quality. They wanted to know how things were grown. I remember going to the organic farm with my father every day to pick up select produce, and the pride that this young hippy family had. They had long beards and dressed extremely casual. They lived in a very modest house. There was a lot of focus on organic. I think the biggest thing was that they were making their own breads, which nobody did at that time. Just for themselves, although some of them would sell breads. In New Hampshire and especially Vermont, I think there were a lot of organic restaurants and cafes. They were opening organic food stores at that time so they were bringing awareness to it.”

Bronx-born Barbara Lazaroff, who would go on to co-create Spago and other restaurants with future husband and business partner chef Wolfgang Puck, attended New York University, starting in 1970. On Friday nights, she participated in informal dinner parties with friends. She describes one frequent host, a well-funded Saudi student named Nassar, who had the biggest apartment, mostly unfurnished, with pillows scattered about. “We would put newspaper all over the floor and every Friday it would be a different cuisine. That’s the first time I tasted sashimi and sushi. One person was from Abu Dhabi, another was from Saudi Arabia, another from Japan, Argentina, Peru. One person was Bolivian. A number of Africans from countries I don’t think exist anymore because I can’t keep track of how many times they’ve changed. So it was absolutely everything I aspired to immerse myself in but couldn’t afford to: travel. I was traveling through the stories and the cuisine and the lives of these other people.”

Wonderful as it sounds, writer L. John Harris cautions against idealizing the era: “I was in the art department at UC Berkeley,” he remembers. “That’s when food became almost like theatrical performance art. There’s that whole side in the seventies of cooking with friends and making it visually beautiful. It was food experienced as a kind of ritual for artists to be interested in, but ingredients were kind of irrelevant. There was a side of food at the time that was performance — theatrical and visual — in addition to taste. We were living in communes. We were cooking for each other. There was a gourmet club we went to that cooked out of Julia Child and all of that. This is in the late sixties, early seventies. . . .

“It was a mission. I felt like we were discovering something. It was certainly important to us. This is very California and it can sound very pretentious and very hippy dippy, but our generation was about changing things, whether it was antiwar or whatever. Some people discovered that you can change things through food. You can create pleasure. You can create community through food. Food is community. This was the beginning of the breakdown of the American family. We were re-creating the family. We were living in communes. We were disgusted with the American system. I marched against the war, of course. But I didn’t think of food in that way at that time and I don’t think most people did. I think we ignore the fact sometimes that this discovery of good food was about pleasure. It wasn’t about changing the system at that point. I think that came a little bit later. I think we had discovered a great source of delight and pleasure and sensual gratification in a very sterile, corporate world. So we weren’t on a political mission at that time, I don’t think. History tends to compress reality into very simple sound bites. It was a vast period in the seventies where we were about food as pleasure, sensual awareness, and community.”

The new interest in food wasn’t limited to the counterculture. A proliferation of hobbyist cooking schools and classes materialized to meet the moment a 1971 New York Times article listed no fewer than twenty-four Gotham-based businesses proffering cooking classes — everything from fantasy-camp instruction by the likes of writer James Beard and Mexican cooking priestess Diana Kennedy to crash courses in Chinese food, kosher buffet catering, and macrobiotic practices.

In their newfound fascination with food and cooking, many Americans were guided by a small group of writers and television personalities: James Beard, a failed thespian and opera singer of Hitchcockian stature who had lived for a short time in Paris, turned his attention to food full-time by 1940 and became a prolific author, television personality, commercial pitchman, and networker. He loomed large, as did Julia Child, whose first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961, helped demystify the intimidating European cuisine to generations of home cooks. Child’s first television show, The French Chef, debuted in 1963, amping up the effort. There was also Englishman Graham Kerr, less well remembered than the others, but notable for the humor and bonhomie on display on his show The Galloping Gourmet (1969 to 1971), on which he took a thematic approach to cooking, combining travelogue footage, history, and instruction sipped wine on camera, often running into a frame with his drink nearly splashing out of the glass appeared in a variety of costumes (from a tuxedo to a knight’s armor) and charmed a live studio audience.

Richard Olney, an American expat living in France, also developed a cult following for his books The French Menu Cookbook (1970) and Simple French Food (1974), notable for their masterfully written recipes, chock-full of information, opinion, and evocative detail. A similar fandom sprung up around Brit Elizabeth David for her books such as French Provincial Cooking (1960). Craig Claiborne ushered in a golden age of newspaper food writing when he became the New York Times food editor in 1957 in the role, he introduced the paper’s standard-setting restaurant review system. And food magazines such as Gourmet and Food & Wine were beginning to make their marks, although they wouldn’t begin covering chefs until years later

Americans were seduced by nouvelle cuisine both for the personality in the food itself and the attention paid to the chefs, which altered their perception of the profession and put faces to the movement.

The other dominant genre of culinary experience available to Americans overseas during these years was restaurant food on a level beyond imagining, thanks primarily to the rise of a new style of cooking commonly referred to as nouvelle cuisine. The movement was first trumpeted as such in Le nouveau guide, the brainchild of food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau, who founded the Guide with André Gayot. The Guide debuted in 1969, in part as a response to what the authors saw as the staid Guide Michelin, which had been evaluating restaurants according to its three-star scale since 1931. Gault and Millau contended that Michelin had failed to praise an emerging new guard of French chefs who broke away from the timeworn canon of haute cuisine recipes first codified by Escoffier in Le guide culinaire in 1903.

“Michelin: Don’t forget these 48 stars!” screamed the first issue’s hand-scrawled headline accompanying an image of chefs including Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard, and Louis Outhier, who were changing the construct of French cuisine, abandoning the Escoffier playbook in favor of a freer, more personal style. The best-known edition of the Guide was the 1973 issue featuring an article revolutionarily titled “Vive la nouvelle cuisine.” In it, the authors put forth not only the name of the movement itself, but also distilled it down, with religious undertones, into the “Dix [Ten] Commandments.” The list seems quaint, but at a time when food was tiptoeing away from platter service and table-side carving to the style of dishes plated by the chef in the kitchen that has endured and evolved through today, it was transformative. The ten commandments included such rules as simplifying where possible, reducing cooking times, cooking seasonally, employing lighter sauces, rediscovering regional dishes, availing oneself of modern equipment such as nonstick pans, cooking with diet and health in mind, and being inventive.

There’s just one problem: Like most culinary catchalls, nouvelle cuisine oversimplifies, emphasizing certain aspects of the trend while omitting the nuance and individuality that distinguishes any chef. Created by journalists to corral electrifying but disorienting change into a manageable construct, the term nouvelle cuisine was promotable but confusing. (Mimi Sheraton, restaurant critic for the New York Times from 1975 to 1983, suggests discarding the delineated elements in favor of the less specific, literal translation of nouvelle cuisine: “new cuisine.”) In the case of Gault and Millau, the name they assigned their movement conveniently echoed the name of their publication: In today’s parlance, nouvelle cuisine might have been considered a brand extension of Le guide nouveau. (The movement was also commonly — and unhelpfully — confused in the United States with cuisine minceur or “slimming food,” the specialty of chef Michel Guérard, also one of the chieftains of nouvelle cuisine.)

Despite these shortcomings, the name nouvelle cuisine stuck. One of its defining underpinnings was the visibility of the practitioners of this bold, new style, the chefs whose personal marks showed in their dishes. The inaugural cover of the Guide depicted close to fifty toques at a time when you’d have been hard-pressed to name more than a handful. Just as each commandment includes some version of the words nouveau, découvrir, and invention (often multiple times), many of them also illustrate their principles with preparations associated with specific chefs.

“Nouvelle cuisine carved out some independence for the chef,” writes Nathan Myhrvold. “Escoffier (and [Marie-Antoine] Carême before him) had explicitly sought to establish rules and conventions. Nouvelle cuisine gave more leeway to the individual chef.”

The simplified historical storyline is that the nouvelle cuisine chefs began the shift to a more personalized cuisine, but Fernand Point deserves much credit, not only for shifting to a new style before the nouvelle cuisine era, but also for mentoring many of the chefs who would congregate under its umbrella. Bocuse, Guérard, and brothers Jean and Pierre Troisgros all apprenticed for him in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Point devised a new menu each day — rendered in dramatic script by his wife, Marie-Louise “Mado” Point — a new approach for the time.

“If I take a little step back, I think Fernand Point is the beginning of the story,” says San Francisco chef Roland Passot, a native of Villefranche-sur-Saône in eastern France. “He was that figure, that man who was drinking Champagne at eight in the morning by noon he’d already have had two or three bottles. People were flying in from all over the world. He had presidents of France and other countries coming to his restaurant.” (Point’s morning Champagne ritual has been romanticized by many. Less frequently cited is his short life span: He died at age fifty-eight in 1955.)

But there’s no doubt that Paul Bocuse was the visionary of his generation and understood the value of moving chefs into the public eye: “Bocuse was very street smart,” says Passot. “It came to him naturally. He was like the godfather of those chefs. He was the one who was leading the pack. I think he was the driving machine of getting chefs out of their kitchens. I don’t want to call them rebels, but they were my idols. And he got together in force with that group of chefs, Michel Guérard, Roger Vergé, even Gaston Lenôtre, to really expose themselves and to show chefs not just cooking behind the stove, but being businesspeople and celebrities. That was a turn.”

Bocuse, in addition to being an innate and master marketer, traveled the world, maintained relationships with chefs in many countries, employed Japanese cooks in his restaurant before others in France were doing it. He also went where no French chef of his stature had gone before, visiting the United States to perform cooking demonstrations and participate in special dinners that garnered press coverage and furthered the cause.

Americans were seduced by nouvelle cuisine both for the personality in the food itself and the attention paid to the chefs, which altered their perception of the profession and put faces to the movement. And some of those Americans could imagine themselves in kitchen whites. David Liederman, a New York City college student, was so dazzled by his meal at La Maison Troisgros that he made a bet with Jean Troisgros that if he could beat him in tennis, he could return and work in the kitchen. Jonathan Waxman remembers being in France in his twenties and seeing four nouvelle cuisine leaders on the cover of Paris Match magazine. “I said, ‘That looks pretty cool,’” he says. “Being a chef. Being on the cover of a magazine.”

A useful counterpoint is the experience of the late Judy Rodgers, best known as the chef of San Francisco’s Zuni Café, who spent a year living with the Troisgros family in Roanne, France, from 1973 to 1974. Though she never officially worked in their restaurant kitchen, she did occasionally help with rudimentary prep work there, tasted their full repertoire, received culinary wisdom directly from the brothers, and recorded every recipe in her notebooks. Despite such extraordinary access, she responded more to the food she ate outside the restaurant’s dining room: “About three weeks into my stay at Troisgros, I know that I preferred staff meal to dining in the dining room. I loved the experience of dining in the dining room, and it came off beautifully, and the food was frankly a lot simpler and more sort of easy and enjoyable to eat than a three-star meal in Paris or a three-star at Bocuse, but still, I knew that for me, the dining experience, the conviviality of the food that I was eating at staff meal or at Jean’s sister’s, where she was doing traditional Burgundian food for the most part, I just liked that better. My body liked it better, and I was a strapping sixteen-year-old. I could eat anything, but I knew I liked that better. Plus, it just struck me at that point in my life that my God, I was already sixteen, and there was no way I was going into food and the stuff that they did after seven o’clock in the kitchen was something that you had to begin training for at age fourteen, and I was over the hill.”

Andrew Friedman is the author of Knives at Dawn: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Bocuse d’Or, the World’s Most Prestigious Cooking Competition and coeditor of the internationally popular anthology Don’t Try This at Home. He has also coauthored more than two dozen cookbooks and memoirs. Friedman writes about chefs on his Toqueland blog and interviews them on his Heritage Radio Network podcast Andrew Talks to Chefs. He lives in New York.

From the book CHEFS, DRUGS AND ROCK & ROLL: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession by Andrew Friedman. Copyright © 2018 by Andrew Friedman. Reprinted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


Black Chefs' Struggle for the Top

MILTON GUZMAN arrived in the kitchen of Alinea, an avant-garde restaurant in Chicago, with a prestigious culinary degree and a sterling recommendation from the New York restaurant Per Se.

He didn't feel he had truly made it, though, until the freezer broke down several months after the opening. Forced to remake a tray of melted confections as dinner was about to begin, the pastry chef, Alex Stupak, asked Mr. Guzman to spray a tray of newly frozen ganache with liquid chocolate, a technique requiring such speed and finesse that Mr. Stupak always did it himself.

Mr. Guzman, now 29, remembers that as he watched the chocolate receive layer upon layer of cocoa-butter mist from his paint gun, he was proud: he felt he truly belonged. But he still knew that he stood out from the rest of the staff. He was, once again, the only black chef.

Before going to Alinea, he had been the only black chef at Per Se. And at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan he had been the only black student in his class. "Why is that?" he wondered. "Where are they?"

Years ago, when cooking at even the best restaurants was considered menial labor, blacks often worked the stoves. But as employment options opened up for blacks in the 1960's and 70's, kitchen work became less attractive. Now, with the restaurant industry booming and chefs becoming celebrities and wealthy entrepreneurs, few blacks are sharing in that success, and as young black men and women enter the profession they are finding few mentors or peers. "The adulation that the chef gets now and the rank that chefs are on the social scale now, African-Americans are not taking part of it at all," said the chef and cookbook author Jacques Pépin.

Ask any professional cook to name one black chef other than Marcus Samuelsson, at Aquavit in Manhattan, and you're likely to hear silence, followed by a nervous chuckle. That was Mr. Guzman's response.

Mr. Samuelsson said that blacks fill the ranks of lower-paying and nonmanagement positions in kitchens throughout the industry, "but not in the fine-dining community."

"The sadness of it," he said, "is I can mention every black chef on one hand."

Interviews with dozens of black chefs and restaurateurs revealed that struggles with family members, struggles with employers and struggles with themselves have all contributed to the scarcity.

Mr. Guzman said that when he told his family in 2003 that he was leaving his job as a client manager for ACNielsen after six years to become a chef, his parents "thought I was taking a step backward."

"I don't think cooking, when parents want their children to grow up and prosper, it's something that comes to mind," he added. What is more likely to come to mind, in his words, is "the house Negro" or Aunt Jemima.

That might be one reason why of 2,700 students at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y., 85 list themselves as African-American, up from only 49 in 2001.

One of those students is Matthew Raiford, who delayed attending the school for 10 years because his father forbade him to enter an industry that had virtually no black success stories.

"African-American parents -- our parents -- were Pullman porters and waiters and waitresses," said Mr. Raiford, an Atlanta chef who has returned to the institute to earn his bachelor's degree. "Once they had the ability for their children not to do that, they didn't want to choose that."

The dining rooms of high-end restaurants often hold little more attraction for African-Americans than the kitchens.

"It's very common that you go and don't see a single black face in the entire restaurant," said Alain Joseph, a black chef in the test kitchen at Emeril Lagasse's headquarters in New Orleans. "A restaurant with 200 people, you don't see a single black face."

"If you never had that exposure to even dine in a fine-dining restaurant," Mr. Joseph said, "the thought of getting into the kitchen is greatly diminished."

But while cultural stigmas have held back many aspiring chefs, others blame racism. Joe Brown, the chef at Mélange Cafe, which he owns with his wife in Cherry Hill, N.J., remembers, at his first job, being choked and called a racial epithet by the chef. He didn't stay long, but he continued to cook at numerous other restaurants.

What to Cook This Weekend

Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the weekend. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • Gabrielle Hamilton’s ranchero sauce is great for huevos rancheros, or poach shrimp or cubed swordfish in it.
    • If you’re planning to grill, consider grilled chicken skewers with tarragon and yogurt. Also this grilled eggplant salad.
    • Or how about a simple hot-dog party, with toppings and condiments galore?
    • These are good days to make a simple strawberry tart, the blueberry cobbler from Chez Panisse, or apricot bread pudding.
    • If you have some morels, try this shockingly good pan-roasted chicken in cream sauce from the chef Angie Mar.

    Lance Whitney Knowling, a veteran of high-end Manhattan kitchens who is now the chef and owner of Indigo Smoke in Montclair, N.J., said that five years ago he received a call from the owner of an upscale restaurant in New Jersey to whom he had sent a cover letter and résumé.

    "Iɽ have to have somebody like you," Mr. Knowling recalled the restaurateur's saying. "I couldn't have a black guy or a Latin guy back there, because it would make my customers uncomfortable." When Mr. Knowling said he was black, the restaurateur said, "You're kidding." No, Mr. Knowling said. The conversation grew awkward, and the restaurateur apologized.

    Even in questioning a chef's qualifications, employers can reveal their prejudices.

    Keith Williams, 47, said that he jumped at an offer last year to be executive chef at the chic restaurant BG at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan, but that job discussions in the past had been less pleasant.

    "The first thing they say is, "The only thing you know about is fried chicken and collard greens,' " Mr. Williams said. "And anybody you know that's in this business that's a black chef -- in most cases that's what he's cooking. Even if he came out of a French kitchen, he ends up cooking Southern food."

    Mr. Knowling pointed to his own experience: "I'm classically French trained. I wanted to be the French chef, and that's what I studied for years and years, and now I run a barbecue restaurant -- an upscale barbecue restaurant and soul food restaurant."

    Black chefs aren't the only workers to deal with insensitivity in restaurant kitchens, where abuse can be freely ladled out when the pressure gets high. Countless numbers of Hispanic workers have advanced through the ranks in top kitchens in the face of slurs and prejudice. And women have braved flagrant sexism that was once endemic in the male-dominated kitchen. But black chefs say the abuse raises especially sensitive questions of respect.

    Lloyd Roberts, 31, who is Mr. Williams's executive sous-chef at BG and is Jamaican, said his fellow black graduates of the New York Restaurant School are not comfortable facing that sort of abuse when they are the only blacks. "It's hard for African-Americans who were born here," he said.

    "It's as if the chef is picking on them," he added, "when in reality he's not."

    That's not much of an issue for restaurants if they've had few black employees.

    "We have had very few African-Americans apply for cooking positions over all in the 18 years I've been at Zuni Cafe, out of what Iɽ guess is thousands of applicants," said Judy Rodgers, the executive chef of the restaurant, in San Francisco.

    The chef Tom Colicchio said there were few blacks in his kitchens, including those at Gramercy Tavern and Craft. "Those roles are not being filled," he said, "and we're not getting the applications."

    And since many applicants hear of opportunities through word of mouth, the scarcity can be self-perpetuating.

    "For you to move up in this world, it's not just talent anymore it's who you know," said Walter King, 36, a 1990 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who left the professional kitchen in frustration several years ago to work in New York real estate. "And there's not enough of us in high positions to play the 'who you know' game."

    One person in a high position who has helped blacks to succeed is Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose restaurants have been incubators for the careers of several talented black chefs. Sylva Senate and Greg Gourdet are chefs de cuisine at two of Mr. Vongerichten's places, Mercer Kitchen and 66, respectively. Mr. Williams and Mr. Roberts of BG both rose at Vong, as did Charlene Shade, who has just been hired as executive chef at the Morgan Dining Room and the Morgan Cafe, which are to open soon at the Morgan Library. And moving up through the ranks of Jean Georges is Preston Clark, a son of Patrick Clark, who gained famed at Tavern on the Green. Patrick Clark, who died in 1998 at 42, was one of the first bona fide celebrity chefs and a role model for many, black and white.

    Even with the difficulty of advancement, some successful black chefs say that, for younger blacks, the rewards are now clearly worth the struggle. As Gerry Garvin, who started as a dishwasher in his hometown, Atlanta, and is now host of the cooking show "Turn Up the Heat With G. Garvin" on the TV One network, put it: "I heard everything you hear when you're a young black child coming into a culinary world where it was 90 percent European and a few white guys from Jersey. You can ride that culinary horror story of racism, and it doesn't go much further. Or you can embrace it, realize it happened and try to make it different for guys who are coming into the business, particularly young black males, and teach them how to get past the things I had to deal with."

    Richard Grausman, president and founder of the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, which has headquarters in New York and provides scholarships and guidance for high school students interested in culinary careers, said the new acclaim for chefs in general is helping to breach the barriers.

    At first, Mr. Grausman said, "when I saw somebody had talent, they might say, Yes, but my mother doesn't want me to, or my family doesn't want me to."

    "That prevailed up until the last few years," he continued, "when the explosion of food and chefs' success has come through the Food Network and other TV shows. So that now I'm not hearing that. I haven't had resistance from family to let their kids pursue a career. The floodgates haven't opened, but that resistance doesn't seem to be there any longer, which is a big, big plus."

    As at the Culinary Institute of America, the black enrollment at the French Culinary Institute has risen by about half since 2002. Of the approximately 480 students, 35 to 40 are black, said officials at the school, who attributed much of the increase to scholarships from Mr. Grausman's program.

    One of those scholarships was won by Janise Addison, 19, of Corona, Queens, who graduated from the institute last year. She worked first at Town in New York then, through word of mouth, she found her current job as a pastry chef at the Modern.

    "You make it based on what you can do or can't do," she said recently at the restaurant before beginning her shift.

    After graduating from Stanford, Beth Setrakian, 49, got her first job as a pastry chef in 1979 for Mark Miller at the Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley, Calif., where, she said, "I was definitely the only African-American in the kitchen." She opened her own business, Beth's Fine Desserts, in San Francisco in 1988 she said it now has annual sales of around $8 million.

    "There are so many black cooks," she said, adding: "We're on the verge of change. And thank goodness, because the heritage that we bring is a great addition to American cuisine as a whole."


    Almond torte

    There’s a lot of inspiring stuff flying off the presses lately, and we’re thrilled to make room on our bookshelves -- but not at the expense of that one old favorite. You know, the cookbook whose jacket has gone missing, whose pages are stained with gravy, whose splitting spine is taped together. It’s the one we can always count on for great ideas and practical advice. In that spirit, here are the all-time favorite cookbooks of Times Food staff writers:

    Want to know why Richard Olney’s “Simple French Food” is my favorite cookbook? Read the recipes -- the one for onion panade, for example. In fact, just read the first sentence: “Cook the onions, lightly salted, in the butter over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, keeping them covered for the first 40 minutes.”

    In that one brief passage, we get three cooking lessons: Salt the onions from the start to help draw out the moisture so the onions wilt faster. Start them in a cold pan so they melt without scorching. And cover the pan early on to trap the heat, helping retain moisture and keeping the onions from browning.

    Even better, the dish is a total knockout. It’s like a transcendent French onion soup -- deeply aromatic, nearly custardy, with a stunning gratineed cap. All this comes from only the humblest ingredients. No fancy foodstuffs, no expensive equipment and no tricky techniques. With Olney’s cuisine, time and care are all that are required to work miracles. There is no more important lesson for a cook to learn than that.

    I love poring over cookbooks, but in truth, I rarely follow a recipe to the letter when I’m cooking at home. Unless, that is, it’s from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (co-written with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck). I first opened this book in the early 1970s, and it hasn’t let me down since. The instructions are clear and thorough, the simple line drawings extremely helpful in illustrating cooking tips. Even what might seem like a fancy dish (a charlotte, say) feels doable. One of my all-time favorites is the blender hollandaise sauce it’s so deliciously foolproof, you can’t help but feel confident that you’re really mastering the art.

    Judy Rodgers is a consummate chef, and “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook” reflects the sensibility behind the intelligent and sensual food at her long-running restaurant in San Francisco.

    The writing is wonderful, the selection of recipes smashing. I get hungry just thumbing through it. I’ve cooked from it so much that the pages just naturally fall open at certain recipes, such as the peach crostata, the world’s greatest roast chicken with Tuscan bread salad, or, standing rib roast of pork. The pork has become my fallback for entertaining when I don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen. It’s incredibly easy and incredibly satisfying, and a great dish for a beautiful Chianti or Sangiovese.

    Barbara Hansen, staff writer

    On my first trip to Mexico a couple of decades ago, I discovered a bilingual book that became my bible to Mexican food. “Mexican Cook Book Devoted to American Homes,” by Josefina Velazquez de Leon, first came out in 1956, but nearly half a century (and many reprints) later, it remains a valuable guide.

    Velazquez de Leon, the Mexican equivalent of Fannie Farmer, provides practical cooking instructions but also makes her country’s vibrant cuisine come to life. Leafing through the pages, I can practically taste the mole de olla (a fragrant and spicy beef stew and stuffed squash blossoms as they would have been prepared in a traditional kitchen, where clay pots simmer over a wood fire.

    Charles Perry, staff writer

    In 1968, I was a romantic in the kitchen. All ingredients taste great, I figured, so you could just mix and match. Whee! Some would call this California cuisine before its time. Back then, I thought of French food as a lot of bland, pretentious fripperies. But one night, an old college friend cooked cotelettes de porc au cidre from Elizabeth David’s “French Country Cooking,” and I was awestruck. The unexpected combination -- of browned pork, rosemary, cider, garlic and capers -- really worked.

    There was nothing improvisational about it. The dish was as perfect as a Doric column -- despite David’s disdain for giving exact measurements. Today I have hundreds of cookbooks from around the world, but I still find myself going back to David’s rock-solid recipes.

    Leslie Brenner, Food editor

    Pastry making is not my forte, nor do I have a sweet tooth. That’s why when Lindsey Remolif Shere’s “Chez Panisse Desserts” was published in 1985, I flipped over it. Shere was Chez Panisse’s first pastry chef, and a thread of sophistication runs through her desserts, which are more about flavor than they are about sugar. No one can look into the soul of a fruit the way Shere can: She has an innate sense of what to do with a tangerine (use it to flavor oeufs a la neige). She even coaxes flavor out of cherry or apricot pits to make noyau ice cream. And she pairs figs dipped in caramel with anise or Chartreuse creams. “The herbal flavors complement perfectly the sweet muskiness of the fig,” she writes. What could be more inspired than using Chartreuse (or Calvados or Bourbon or late-harvest Riesling) to finish a meal with an elegant, easy flourish?


    Notable chefs learned from a mentor in the kitchen

    4 of 9 Brandon Jew, left, chef at Bar Agricole, says mentoring by Judy Rodgers of Zuni, both seen at Zuni on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif., has been a major factor for his success in the kitchen. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

    5 of 9 Agricole Anchovies - Brandon Jew (Bar Agricole)/ Judy Rogers (Zuni Cafe) as seen in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Food styled by Stephanie Kirkland. Craig Lee/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

    7 of 9 Sean Baker, left, of Gather says Eric Tucker of Millennium, both seen on Friday, June 15, 2012 in Berkeley, Calif., at Gather, was a big influence in the kitchen when the two worked together. Russell Yip/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

    8 of 9 Recipe by Sean Baker (Gather)/Eric Tucker (Millennium) as seen in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Food styled by Lynne Bennett. Craig Lee/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

    Brandon Jew was the boy who played with fire. Sean Baker was the greenhorn kid out of cooking school. Greg Dunmore? He sure did receive his shares of "the look."

    While these aren't the first things that come to mind when we think of up-and-coming chef stars, they're among the first impressions they made on the mentors who trained them.

    Long before these chefs in their 30s ran their own kitchens, they stumbled around those of others, staging, prepping, line cooking and sponging up lessons all around.

    As with any walk of life, mentors help set the table, giving the youngsters a chance, coaching them to success, then letting them fly.

    It happened with James Syhabout of Commis and David Kinch of Manresa. And Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Corey Lee of Benu. Heck, even Keller had a mentor, French-born Roland Henin. The three pairs profiled inside have stories to tell.

    Sean Baker (Gather) and Eric Tucker (Millennium)

    Sean Baker doesn't mince words when asked what his mentor, Millennium's Eric Tucker, thought of the 20-year-old Baker when he arrived as an intern in 2002, fresh from the French Culinary Institute.

    "He thinks I'm a punk kid," Baker says with a laugh.

    "But what he had that a lot of kids didn't," Tucker adds, "is a strong drive and work ethic. It was: 'I want to get better and learn how to do things.' "

    Millennium was one of the first restaurants in San Francisco to give vegetarian and vegan cuisine an upscale treatment, and Baker had always had an interest in vegetable cookery. He even went through a vegan phase that lasted a few years, though he would "totally break the rules."

    Baker impressed Tucker as much with his work in the kitchen as outside it, and worked his way up to sous chef in three years. Baker loved cooking even on his days off, throwing barbecues for family and friends.

    "It might sound weird, but I don't really hear that a lot," Tucker says.

    At Millennium, the two would often break out cookbooks, kicking around ideas for future dishes. Tucker recalls Baker taking dishes in Latin American directions, working in chile peppers and assorted spices.

    By the time Baker left in 2005, he'd also met his wife on the line.

    "When I got there, I didn't know anything about anything," Baker says. "But you start on the line, do the production work, meet all the farmers, like Andy (Griffin) at Mariquita . and the obsession kind of takes over."

    At Gather, his menu is a 50-50 split of vegetarian and meat and fish options. But it's his inventive vegan charcuterie, including his mushroom tartare, that arguably has drawn the most attention.

    Meant to look like regular tartare with a raw "egg" on top, the tartare's tofu-based "yolk" draws on techniques Baker learned at Millennium.

    "Coming from the vegan background, he doesn't guffaw or look at the vegetarian cuisine as limited," Tucker says. "He seamlessly does the vegetarian and vegan stuff and has the meat dialed in."

    Brandon Jew (Bar Agricole) and Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe)

    Judy Rodgers had no qualms about throwing Brandon Jew right into the fire at Zuni Cafe. Jew, then a 22-year-old, had just finished an apprenticeship in Italy and returned to his native San Francisco.

    His first station at Zuni? Pizza, which meant working with the unique two-chamber, wood-fired brick oven that's considered Zuni's heart and soul.

    "Honestly, it's the hardest station," says Rodgers, who came up through the school of Alice Waters. "You're cooking pizza, but you're also cooking wood."

    "You're chucking it in there every two minutes, top or bottom, trying to keep the fire hot," recalls Jew, who has also cooked at Quince and Pizzetta 211. "But it was a cooking style that I fell in love with. It's so old school."

    It's also, at first glance, rather different than the food Jew now serves at Bar Agricole, where chopped liver rubs elbows with grilled stuffed squid and salmon gravlax.

    And yet, he says his cooking is very much grounded in lessons learned at Zuni, from using less-popular fish like anchovies to constantly tasting and adjusting dishes.

    When Rodgers walks around the Zuni kitchen, tasting everything from ricotta gnocchi to scrambled eggs, she can instantly tell what has gone awry. Not enough salt in the water. More cooking time. Less vigorous boiling.

    Then there are the ingredients themselves. Ricotta changing depending on the milk used. Older eggs being a bit more watery, and puffing up less.

    Picking up those tiny changes in an ingredient can be the difference between a good dish and a great one.

    "Right now, I can get really nice peas that are super sweet, so maybe I just blanch them or serve them raw, dressed in a vinaigrette," Jew says. "But when the peas start turning a little starchy, I'll have to cook them longer or braise them.

    "Those things I really picked up from Judy, finding those moments within a season for an ingredient that makes you adjust your cooking style."

    And those anchovies? House-cured anchovies with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, celery and olives are a staple at Zuni. Anchovies are now a must-order for Rodgers when she visits Bar Agricole, where Jew serves them boquerones-style, giving the local fish a quick pickle before marinating in olive oil.

    "I'm the queen of anchovies, and we gobbled his up," says Rodgers.

    Greg Dunmore (Nojo) and Hiro Sone (Terra, Bar Terra and Ame)

    Greg Dunmore still remembers his first encounter with mentor Hiro Sone's cooking at Terra - a composed plate of raw sweet shrimp, tuna tartare and a mayonnaise-mustard spread seasoned with cayenne.

    "I was blown away by how clean it was," Dunmore recalls. "It was like eating dishes that were French or Italian, but approached in a way I'd never seen."

    That approach, which Dunmore refers to as a "Japanese mind-set," is rooted in Sone's childhood. Sone grew up on a rice farm in Japan, so respecting food was a given, as was using ingredients in the purest way possible.

    It's a way of cooking that Dunmore quickly embraced. He had arrived in St. Helena in 2002, having spent three years in Atlanta, where he'd rocketed from line cook to sous chef in a year at famed Bacchanalia, then served as opening chef at its sister restaurant, Floataway Cafe.

    He prompted a similar trajectory at Terra. Dunmore began as a line cook within a year, he was chef de cuisine. And when Sone and his wife, Lissa Doumani, opened Ame in San Francisco in 2005, they tapped Dunmore to be their executive chef.

    Ame's high-end, Japanese-leaning cuisine was an opportunity to expand on the techniques and traditions that Sone had taught Dunmore at Terra. And after leading Ame for five years, Dunmore came full circle, leaving in 2009 to open his own restaurant, Nojo, an izakaya that approaches Japanese food with a California mind-set.

    Dunmore says his relationships with growers, which began at Terra but took off at Ame, are at the core of the food he's serving at Nojo, which means farm in Japanese. The menu is highlighted by grilled skewers as well as pickled vegetables.

    "Sometimes chefs come from Japan, and their classic technique is great, but they have a hard time bringing local meats or vegetables into their cuisine," says Sone, who trained under Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles.

    "Greg understands both and masters it."

    If anything, Dunmore might have gone a bit too Japanese. One of his favorite dishes, nikujaga, a Japanese-style pot roast, was taken off Nojo's menu soon after opening when he realized that the staff was eating it more than diners were ordering it.

    Where to find the chefs

    Brandon Jew, Bar Agricole, 355 11th St. (near Harrison Street), San Francisco (415) 355-9400. baragricole.com

    Judy Rodgers, Zuni Cafe, 1658 Market St. (near Gough Street), San Francisco (415) 552-2522. zunicafe.com

    Sean Baker, Gather Restaurant, 2200 Oxford St. (at Allston Way), Berkeley (510) 809-0400. gatherrestaurant.com

    Eric Tucker, Millennium Restaurant, 580 Geary St. (at Jones Street), San Francisco (415) 345-3900. millenniumrestaurant.com

    Greg Dunmore, Nojo, 231 Franklin St. (near Fell Street), San Francisco (415) 896-4587. nojosf.com

    Hiro Sone, Terra Restaurant, 1345 Railroad Ave. (near Pope Street), St. Helena (707) 963-8931. terrarestaurant.com

    Gather's Mushroom Tartare

    Adapted from Sean Baker. Xanthan gum, nutritional yeast and agar are available in natural foods stores. There will be leftover "egg white" and "yolk" sauces, which can be used as dips for vegetables or on sandwiches. All the components can be made ahead.

    • Mushroom tartare
    • 1 1/4 pounds cremini mushrooms
    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 3 to 4 tablespoons minced shallots, to taste
    • 1/4 cup capers, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons grated fresh horseradish or well-drained prepared horseradish, to taste
    • 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
    • -- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
    • "Egg white"
    • 3/4 cup + 1/3 cup water
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons agar
    • 1/3 cup untoasted pine nuts
    • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
    • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
    • 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
    • 1/3 cup olive oil
    • -- Lemon juice, to taste
    • -- Kosher salt to taste
    • "Yolk" sauce
    • 3 ounces silken tofu, about 1/3 cup
    • 8 teaspoons nutritional yeast
    • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
    • 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons white miso
    • 3/8 teaspoon cayenne
    • -- Zest of 1/2 lemon
    • 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, to taste
    • 3/4 cup olive oil
    • -- Kosher salt, to taste
    • To serve
    • -- Greens and crackers or raw vegetables

    For the tartare: Prepare two large disposable aluminum roasting pans. Use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of one of the pans to make fairly close perforations. Line this pan with enough cheesecloth to fold over itself to make a top layer. Place setup on a sturdy cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

    Trim mushrooms and wipe clean coat with oil. Pulse in a food processor until finely ground but not a paste (about 80 1-second pulses). After the mushrooms are ground, spread them in the pan over bottom layer of cheesecloth then fold top over to cover mushrooms. Place second pan atop weight it with 10-15 pounds of cans or something similar. Press for at least 45-60 minutes.

    Discard the liquid that has drained into the baking sheet. Scrape the now-dryish mushrooms into a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and combine. The tartare can be made ahead and refrigerated.

    For the "egg white": In a small sauce pan, combine 3/4 cup water and agar boil 5 minutes, whisking continuously. Remove from the heat and let set.

    In a blender, combine "set" agar, 1/3 cup water, pine nuts and garlic. Blend on high until smooth. With blender still running, add xanthan gum, nutritional yeast and vinegar slowly drizzle in oil to complete emulsification. If the mixture looks dry, add water in 1-tablespoon increments. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. The "egg white" can be made ahead and refrigerated.

    For the "yolk" sauce: Combine all ingredients except the oil and salt in a small bowl scrape into a blender. Blend on high while slowly adding oil to emulsify. Pass through a fine strainer if needed. Add salt to taste place in a fine-tip squeeze bottle. The "yolk" sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated.

    To serve: You can serve this dish however you like, simply garnished with salad greens. One way is to pack 1/4 cup tartare into a 2 1/2-inch ring mold set on salad greens smooth the top. (You can also use a plastic wrap-lined ramekin invert the tartare onto salad greens before continuing.) Spoon a quarter-size amount of "egg white" in the shape of an egg on top of the tartare follow with a smaller amount of "yolk" in the center to replicate the appearance of an egg. Remove the mold, and serve with raw vegetables or crackers.

    Wine pairing: A medium-bodied red Burgundy will complement this dish without overwhelming it.

    Nikujaga (Japanese Pot Roast)

    Adapted from Nojo chef/owner Greg Dunmore. Note that this must be started at least 1 day before serving.

    • 1 pound beef cheeks or 1 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs
    • -- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
    • 2 tablespoons untoasted sesame oil + more as needed
    • 2 cups water
    • 1/2 cup sake
    • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
    • 2 tablespoons soy sauce + more to finish
    • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce + more to finish
    • 1 tablespoon red miso + more to finish
    • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
    • 1 medium yellow onion, 1/4-inch slices
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

    Day 1: Lightly season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a deep saute pan or Dutch oven. Add the beef and sear on all sides. Pour in the water and sake, then add the brown sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce and miso. Cover and braise until the meat is tender but not falling apart, about 1 3/4 -2 hours depending on the size of the pieces. Remove the beef, strain (and discard) the other solids from the liquid liquid, then return the beef to the liquid. Cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

    Day 2: Scoop off and discard the layer of fat. Remove the beef and cut into bite-size (about 3/4-inch) pieces set aside. Rewarm the braising liquid in a pot.

    Peel and cut potatoes into 3/4-inch dice. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil to a skillet or pan just large enough to hold potatoes in a single layer heat over medium heat. Add the onions and saute briefly. Add the potatoes and cook for about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved braising liquid, which should cover the potatoes add water just to cover, if needed. Bring to a very low simmer and cook the potatoes until just done, about 10-12 minutes. Strain out potatoes and onions, reserving the liquid. If needed, simmer liquid to desired sauce concentration. If made ahead, refrigerate.

    To finish (Day 2 or Day 3): Pour a little sesame oil into a 10-inch skille heat over medium heat, the add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, until aromatic. Add the beef and cook, stirring, for a minute or so until pieces start to warm. Add the braising liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes and onions, and return to a simmer. Adjust seasoning as necessary with the soy sauce and oyster sauce. Finish with a little miso just before serving.

    Wine pairing: A sake similar to the one used for cooking will pair nicely with this dish. Dunmore likes to serve a dry, earthy junmai such as Shichi Hon Yari.

    Bar Agricole Anchovies

    Serves 5-6 as a starter

    Adapted from Brandon Jew who uses this cold pickling method to lightly "cook" the anchovies. This recipe calls for filleting the anchovies - your fishmonger may do it for you. The various steps can be done ahead.

    • Garlic confit
    • -- Cloves from 3 heads garlic, peeled
    • 2 cups olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • Pickling liquid
    • 2 cups water
    • 1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
    • 5 tablespoons sugar
    • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
    • 1/4bunch mint
    • 1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seed
    • 1 dried chile de arbol
    • Anchovies & garnish
    • 1 pound anchovies
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • -- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
    • 4 to 6 ounces purslane, picked over or 1/2 bunch parsley and some celery leaves (optional)

    For the garlic confit: Add garlic, oil and salt to a small pot over low heat. Cook until garlic is soft and is a rich, golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to a small bowl and place in a larger bowl filled with ice to chill. If made ahead, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

    For the pickling liquid: Combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt, mint, fennel seed and chile in a non-aluminum pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to help dissolve sugar and salt. Transfer to a container and chill and refrigerate as above.

    For the anchovies: Fillet the anchovies according to one of the following methods if the market hasn't done this for you. If the whole anchovies haven't already been scaled, rinse under running water and scrape scales off with your fingers.

    1. Use a sharp paring knife to make a slit down the back and remove top fillet from the spine. Pull spine out and scrape out the entrails and detach bottom fillet from the head. Rinse clean.

    2. Or, keep both fillets attached along the back so the anchovies appear butterflied. Use a sharp paring knife to cut the head off scrape out the entrails and rinse clean. Make an incision into the belly, against both sides of the spine. Carefully pull away the flesh, keeping the fillets connected with each other. When you get to the tail, use scissors to cut the spine away from the tail. Do not leave any of the spine - it is sharp and inedible.

    To pickle: Layer the fillets in a non-aluminum pan and cover with the pickling liquid. When the fillets become opaque - about 10 minutes - carefully remove them from the liquid and wipe clean discard the liquid. Layer the anchovies in a separate container, top with the garlic oil and let sit for 15 minutes. The anchovies can be pickled ahead and will last 2 days, refrigerated.

    To serve: Whisk the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice together season to taste with salt and pepper, then lightly dress the purslane or parsley. Remove the anchovies from the oil and blot dry. Serve the anchovies with the confit garlic cloves and the purslane or parsley.


    Alfred Portale and Gotham Bar and Grill – New York City

    Alfred Portale was born in Buffalo, New York in 1954 and raised in a family where his mother and grandmother took Italian cooking and adapted it to American ingredients. He graduated at the top of his class at the Culinary Institute in 1981. From 1981 to 1984, he apprenticed in France with theGreat Chefs Guerard, Troisgros and Maximin, where he refined and mastered classical French techniques.

    In 1984 he became the executive chef at Gotham Bar and Grill, and took the restaurant to new heights with his beautiful plating and insistence on high quality ingredients. In 1986, Gotham was first awarded three stars by the New York Times, a feat it has repeated often. He was considered one of the founders of “New American Cuisine” along with Great Chef Larry Forgione. In 1992, Chef Portale opened One Fifth Avenue which became New York’s seafood restaurant of choice, supplied daily by a salmon farm and a fisherman in Maine. Chef Alfred Portale mentored many chefs who went on to become Great Chefs like Tom Colicchio, Bill Telepan and Wylie Dufresne.

    Great Chefs visited Chef Alfred Portale in 1992 to tape an appetizer, Squab Salad and Couscous (episode #11) for their Great Chefs of the East series, and again in 1996 to tape an entrée, Sautéed Quail with Pea Shoots and Herbed Morel Risotto (episode #41) for the Great Chefs – Great Citiestelevision series. They came back again in 2000 to tape another entrée, Roasted Red Snapper with Fingerlings, Leeks, Garlic and Rosemary Tagliarini (episode #111) which appeared on the Great Chefs of America television series over the Discovery Channel.

    Chef Portale has been awarded many accolades including the Ivy Awards, written three books between 1996 and 2004, and is actively involved in charities dedicated to providing food for the needy like Share our Strength, Citymeals-on-Wheels, American Chefs & Winemakers, James Beard tributes and Wolfgang Puck’s Annual American Food & Wine Festival.

    Celebrating their 30th Anniversary (June 2014), Chef Portale and his partner, Jerry Kretchmer, are now considering opening a second restaurant. Congratulations, gentlemen!


    How Alice Waters changed the landscape of food

    A time of unapologetic excess when shoulder pads are massive, hair a three-foot-high fire hazard, and meals are served on gleaming black charger plates the size of hubcaps. I’m standing at the back of the original Dean & DeLuca in Manhattan’s SoHo, where I’m working as the cookbook department clerk. Early one morning, before the rush – the gallerist Mary Boone buying a $10 tomato, Jean-Michel Basquiat trying to not fall into the chevre display – the front door blows open and a petite lady dragging a heavy, two-piece, cast-iron Tuscan fireplace grill huffs and puffs her way down the aisle to where my boss and I are waiting.

    “I’m just back from Tuscany,” she says in a breathless pant, “and I’ve fallen in love with it! Can you find someone to make these over here?’

    “Of course, Alice,” my boss says to this woman – who, in spite of her diminutive size, has schlepped this behemoth thousands of miles because she loves the pure, dramatic carnality and elemental flavour of fire-roasted foods, and wants others to enjoy it as much as she does – even if their only live flame source is a suburban fireplace. Alice wants others to experience what she did on a life-changing trip to France in the early 1960s: that single moment when the gears click into place, when something shifts, and the sensory act of cooking and eating and breaking bread with others will never be the same again.

    “Thank you,” she says, smiling warmly, leaving the grill in a heap at my boss’s feet. She floats down the other aisle, out the door, and is gone in a blur of muted silk crepe.

    Thirty years later, Alice Waters remains in constant motion for almost half a century she has arguably done the heavy lifting for a nation that, when the doors of her restaurant Chez Panisse opened in Berkeley, California in August 1971, was drinking screw-top jugs of Mountain Burgundy and eating aerosol cheese.

    Waters’ new memoir, Coming to My Senses, is dedicated not to her family but to 1960s activist and leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, Mario Savio. This runs parallel to her single-minded commitment to a clear moral issue: that good food – honestly grown, picked at the height of its season, prepared simply, served beautifully, eaten slowly and convivially – should be available to everyone. And that we must recognise and support those who produce and purvey it: farmers, fisherman, ranchers, local growers, farmers’ markets, and Community Supported Agriculture. We must understand the concept of flavour, and sustenance, and the sensual humanity of the table.

    In America, which is built on supply and demand, speed, entitlement, and instant gratification, virtually nothing has been more revolutionary, challenging, or complicated, than saying: “No there is another way.”

    As Savio famously implored the rioting students of Berkeley in 1964, Alice has “put her body upon the gears and upon the wheels” of an odious machine. And if she has not entirely stopped it, she has certainly slowed and altered its course. In every city in America and far beyond, farmers’ markets abound organics are widely available small organic vegetable gardens thrive from inner cities to suburban front lawns to the White House the Edible Schoolyard Project, founded by Alice and the Chez Panisse Foundation in 1995 as a way “to create and sustain an organic garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school’s curriculum, culture, and food program” now exists in 33 countries.

    The chefs who have passed through the Chez Panisse kitchen since it opened its doors include Deborah Madison, the late Judy Rodgers, David Tanis, Paul Bertolli, Joyce Goldstein, Jeremiah Tower, Jonathan Waxman, Mark Miller, Cal Peternell, Suzanne Goin, Steve Sullivan, and Russell Moore – and two Cook contributors, Claire Ptak and Samin Nosrat. All have gone on to write seminal cookbooks, open landmark restaurants and bakeries, and put their own mark on an ethos that has forever changed the way we think about food and the table.

    As for me, I never bought one of Alice’s beloved Tuscan grills living in a tiny walk-up flat in Manhattan back then, I had no fireplace. What I did have, though, was a small galley kitchen where I often cooked dinner parties for my friends, hopelessly scouring the city from top to bottom for elusive Meyer lemons because Alice said that I – that we all – should. After she left Dean & DeLuca that day in 1987, my boss gave me a small stack of books to take home and read: Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook, Jane Grigson’s Good Things. “If you love Alice,” he said, “you’ll want to read these.”

    Those books, like all of Alice’s cookbooks shelved near them in my New England kitchen, are now falling apart.

    While having dinner at Chez Panisse this past summer – 30 years after my first encounter with her – I ordered a peach for dessert, served with nothing but a knife. Picked at the perfect moment, its flavour was explosive and almost lewdly mouth-filling, and its juices dribbled down my chin.


    Contents

    Guarnaschelli was born on April 18, 1941, in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Horita Alice (née Peabody) and George DiBenedetto. Her father was a refrigerator salesperson and her mother was a homemaker. She studied at the Emmanuel College in Boston and went on to complete her master's degree from Yale University majoring in Russian literature. [1]

    Guarnaschelli started her publishing career with Scribner's and later with William Morrow before joining W. W. Norton & Company in 2000, where she would go on to become a Vice President and serve until her retirement in 2017. [2] She was also a consulting editor for the American food magazine Saveur. [3]

    Over her career, she was recognized as a cookbook publishing pioneer and groomed multiple authors, with many of them going on to win awards including the James Beard Foundation Award and the International Association of Culinary Professional awards. [2] [3] Some of the notable books that she edited and published included those that brought international cuisine to American households, including the first cookbook she edited, Classic Indian Cooking (1980) by Julie Sahni, which The New York Times credited as "the first comprehensive Indian cookbook for American kitchens." [1] Other cookbooks she edited included those on Mexican cuisine by Rick Bayless and Chinese cuisine by Fuchsia Dunlop. [1] [2] Some other culinary writers with whom she had worked include J. Kenji López-Alt with The Food Lab, Judy Rodgers with The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Maricel Presilla with Gran Cocina Latina, and Rose Levy Beranbaum with The Cake Bible. [3]

    One of Guarnaschelli's more ambitious projects was the seventh edition of Irma S. Rombauer's 1931 classic Joy of Cooking, an originally self-published book which was the best-selling cookbook in US history at the time. [1] [2] With a budget of $5 million, she embarked on a ambitious task to rewrite the book for the late 1990s. She recruited over 130 chefs across cuisine styles to develop a modernized version of the book. [2] The book had a comprehensive rewrite with 4500 recipes and less than 50 remaining the same from the original, and was published as All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking in 1997. [4] The book had a mixed reception with some reviews praising the book, calling it "complete" and "functional", but some critics said that the book was "joyless" and had a "corporate" approach. Rombauer's granddaughter Marion Rombauer said that Becker's family dissociated themselves from the book. [1] The book and its subsequent reprints continues to remain popular and is still considered a standard presence in American kitchens. [2]

    In a career spanning five decades, Guarnaschelli was known for bringing a rigorous approach to the testing of and quality of recipes, preferring accuracy over ease of preparation, and she pushed cookbook authors to think beyond the French and Italian cuisines familiar to most Americans. [1] Her books contributed to the change in how home cooking was perceived over the time she was active, home cooking moved from being simply a daily chore to a hobby and "cultural touchstone" for many home cooks. [1] Some of the books she edited contained recipes that required days of preparation, as opposed to many cookbooks of the time which marketed themselves as having easy and simple recipes in order to sell more easily. [1]

    Guarnaschelli also edited works of nonfiction other than food related books, working with academic authors including Deborah Tannen on You Just Don't Understand, considered a seminal work on gender studies and linguistics, John Cacioppo on Loneliness, and Steven Pinker on The Language Instinct. [3] [1]

    Guarnaschelli (then DiBenedetto) met her husband, John Guarnaschelli, who was then a history professor, when she was studying at the Yale University. [1] Her husband died in 2018. [2] Their daughter is the New York based chef Alex Guarnaschelli. [1] [5]

    She died on February 6, 2021, at the Northwell Health Stern Family Center in Manhasset, New York, from heart disease and related complications. [1] She was 79. [4]


    Feast: Food of the Islamic World - by Anissa Helou (2018)

    Anissa Helou, who grew up in Beirut, made her name with lyrical Mediterranean cookbooks that make ideal celebratory dinners. Feast maintains her crisp, evocative prose and approachable recipe writing, but shifts its boundaries from the geographic to the religious, chronicling Muslim culinary traditions across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

    The book’s three hundred recipes trace the path of Islam from its seventh-century origins in present-day Saudi Arabia to the vibrant Muslim communities of Senegal, India, Indonesia, China’s Xinjiang province, and more. The food itself is phenomenal - breads, salads, stews, curries, sticky-sweet desserts - but even more illuminating is Helou’s decision to include blocks of different recipes for a single dish.

    At first, they seem redundant: half a dozen simple flatbreads, or innumerable variations on ground spiced meat formed into kebabs. In fact, in outlining their minute differences side by side, Helou reveals the habits, rituals, and histories that make up a vast and heterogeneous religious culture and cuisine.


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