The James Beard 2015 Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards have just been awarded, and the Cookbook Hall of Fame award went to Barbara Kafka. If her name isn’t familiar to you, you’re not alone. Many cooks have never heard of her.
Kafka is a cookbook author, journalist and teacher. She has taught with James Beard, consulted for many fine restaurants, written for The New York Times, and contributed to Gourmet magazine with her regular column “The Opinionated Palate.” And that’s just a sampling of her professional accomplishments.
Her award, however, was not for teaching or restaurant consulting or columns. It was for her cookbooks, which according to the James Beard Foundation website are “a series of remarkable books.” In each she starts from scratch, coming up with interesting questions and then figuring out answers, never working from received wisdom. The result is a body of work that, book by book, has transformed the culinary landscape.
Kafka’s first best-seller was the 1987 “Microwave Gourmet.” She was the first major food writer to dedicate a cookbook to microwave cooking. The book is not just a recipe book. It also includes a dictionary of foods and techniques that explains how different foods react in the microwave. Kafka introduced a high-temperature roasting technique in the 1995 “Roasting: A Simple Art” that “completely changed the way we think about that subject,” according to Naomi Duguid who wrote the biography for Kafka on the James Beard site. Other books include 1992’s “Party Food,” 1998’s “Soup, A Way of Life,” and 2005’s “Vegetable Love.” Kafka published her latest cookbook, “The Intolerant Gourmet” in 2011 with recipes for those with food intolerances including gluten.
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