Brow Beat

Remembering Sheila Lukins

A guest post from Slate food writer, Sara Dickerman:

I shed a few raspberry vinegar tears at the passing of the frizzy-haired food maven Sheila Lukins, who, along with her former partner in the Silver Palate franchise, Julie Rosso, was, and is, one of my cooking inspirations. Though the country is obsessed with Julia Child this summer, in the 1980s, Rosso and Lukins truly mobilized American home cooks with their Silver Palate cookbooks, which combined then-adventurous ingredients, and French-y techniques with American whimsy. First, as the owners of an Upper West Side Deli/catering mecca, they glamorized brunch and high-end deli fare. With their line of fancy mustards, chutneys, and vinegars, they goosed the specialty food market with a dash of French country chic, and with their cookbook, they got an entire country eating brie and Chicken Marbella. I’ve always argued that because of the logistical demands of feeding hundreds of people at a time, caterers make the most usable cookbooks—think Ina Garten and Martha Stewart—and Lukins and Rosso set the standard. The three cookbooks they worked on together The Silver Palate Cookbook, The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, and The New Basics were extremely approachable in technique, but never plain. In fact it was their inclination toward frivolous ornamentation that may have made food-lovers get a little tired of the silver palate aesthetic in the mid-nineties—the sun-dried tomato that broke the camel’s back. Lukins’ work after she split with Rosso—her populist Parade columns and her ever more eclectic cookbooks—didn’t quite capture the zeitgeist the way her earlier works did, but she remained a potent, more populist advocate for the pleasures of homemade food in the face of convenience food and casual-dining chains. I’ll miss her voice. - Sara Dickerman