The cookbook world has lost one of its titans: writer/editor/recipe guru/restaurant consultant Barbara Kafka has died. New York Times food editor Sam Sifton shared the news on Twitter Friday, citing Atlantic senior editor and food writer Corby Kummer. According to the Washington Post, Kafka was 84.
Over the course of her four-decade-plus career, Kafka wrote a number of influential cookbooks, including the vegetarian culinary guide Vegetable Love, the high-heat cooking manual Roasting, and the trendsetting 1987 book Microwave Gourmet. The cookbook maven also contributed hundreds of recipes to the New York Times over the years, and she had a monthly column in Gourmet called “The Opinionated Palate.”
A member of James Beard’s inner circle, Kafka taught cooking lessons alongside the famed chef, as well as on her own. After his death in 1985, Kafka edited a tribute book called The James Beard Celebration Cookbook.
Kafka was an early champion of California winemaking, and her expertise in this area led to some consulting work for storied restaurateur Joe Baum, who was behind New York City dining icons like the Four Seasons and Windows on the World. Eight years ago, Kafka told the Daily Beast about her career in the ’70s:
By this time I’d met some people, I’d done an article on Joe Baum’s wine cellar in the Revue de Vin de France, I’d written about California wines. So I called Mr. Baum and he was willing to hire me. This was before Windows on the World was built. I bought wine and I made a wine list and it was the first wine list of its kind: vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. And it came to the point at which Joe said, “Write me a menu.” I’d write a menu and he’d say, “It sounds good, but it’s not a menu item.” And I’d say, “What do you mean?” And he’d say, “It’s an item, it’s a food thing, but it doesn’t make a plate, a presentation.” So I learned how to write a menu, and I’d go into the kitchen and give the recipes to the chef and show the sous chef how to make the recipes. There were no other women there.
Several years later, Kafka also helped create the original menu for Gotham Bar & Grill.
Kafka collected a number of accolades for her work over the years, including the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, which she received in 2007, and the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame Award, which she picked up three years ago. Here are some reactions to the news from food writers and editors:
Barbara Kafka, the writer and cook who championed microwave cooking, high-heat roasting and the benefits of a vegetarian diet in a series of bestselling cookbooks, has died, @CKummer reports. Here are just some of her recipes on #NYTCooking: https://t.co/i0kV31jYlU— Sam Sifton (@SamSifton) June 1, 2018
Barbara Kafka was incorrigibly bold, brilliant, original, and argumentative for the sport of it--and to provoke you to be original too. https://t.co/rxWMRYntKX— Corby Kummer (@CKummer) June 1, 2018
BarbaraKafka was not just a great food writer & creative restaurant consultant, she was also fun and a friend and an active organizer in the earliest days of Citymeals drive to bring weekend meals to NYC's homebound. https://t.co/DR3BN9Y9w1— Gael Greene (@GaelGreene) June 1, 2018
Her tenure was brief, but in 1984, when the flashiest NY spots (River Cafe, Quilted Giraffe) were helmed by men, Barbara Kafka wrote the menu and opened Gotham Bar & Grill, a 5,000 sq-ft goliath. https://t.co/DCe9R4ID5N— Hugh Merwin (@hughmerwin) June 1, 2018
• Barbara Kafka, cookbook author who turned up the heat, dies at 84 [WaPo]
• @samsifton [Twitter]
• The Queen of the Cookbook [The daily Beast]