I was traveling this past Monday so missed the news of the passing of Sheila Lukins on August 30, 2009 at age 66 of brain cancer. My husband Marc said,”you should write something about Sheila since the Silver Palate was such a part of our lives together in the late 70’s and early 80’s in New York.”
I looked at him intently and thought how right he was. We ‘grew up’ with Sheila and her partner Julee’s The Silver Palate when we moved in together in Manhattan in 1980.
I hadn’t had time earlier in the week to take the time to write this blog and was really surprised this morning when I googled Lukins to see that not very much had been written on this woman who influenced the way we cooked and whose cookbooks sold over 7 million copies. Time magazine has a few paragraphs about her but there’s too much to this story to be reduced to so few words.
Marc reminds me of the Silver Palate store on 73rd and Columbus – our first stomping grounds since my first job our of college was at Lincoln Center and of how, when you saw their products anywhere it was a signal of good taste and good eats to come. We take for granted now that their bottled dressings, marinades and other offerings on the supermarket shelves but what we forget is that they were pioneers in the world of bringing gourmet staples to the masses.
I pulled my copy of “Basics” off the shelf as I’m writing this – it’s stuffed with stained bookmarks and opens automatically to Pasta Primavera on page 136 and page 510 Veal and Mushroom stew. The index is falling out and there are dishes in there that I know we loved like the Market Street Meat Loaf served at the Venice, CA restaurant of the same name that was in our old ‘hood in our early years in CA. Their notes that Vogue magazine termed it “the ultimate meat loaf” made me laugh as it was so true.
I panic for a minute when I can’t find The Silver Palate Cookbook on my shelves but there it is and it too is marked on the page for Carrot and Orange Soup. I think we ate this as a first course not only at our house but at every friend’s who loved to entertain at home.
It surprised me to learn that Lukins had replaced Julia Child at Parade magazine as the food editor and contributor in 1986 and that she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1991 that almost killed her and paralyzed her left side.
The store in NYC was sold in 1988 and closed by the new owners in 1993 and while the partners split in a widely publicized breakup in the 90’s they reunited in 2007 for a 25th anniversary edition of The New Basics Cookbook.
Lutkins learned in June of this year that she had brain cancer and was with her family when she died last weekend at age 66.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with Katie Workman this week – now the editor of The Hungry Beast – whose Workman publishing was responsible for bringing these books into my life and the lives of so many other wanna be cooks – men and women who relied on them for their home entertaining tips. I’d forgotten too how the illustrations in the book set them apart from any cookbook I’ve seen and that we assembled the dishes to look like theirs so easily from them.
I’m wondering if Katie and I were ever in the little shop on 73rd at the same time and remembering how excited we got walking through the door feeling guilty for our splurge on the raspberry vinaigrette dressing or some other treat.
Others in NY took the trends that Lukins and Rosso started and incorporated them into their own operations but they were really the first and a gift of their products was a sign of impeccable taste then – and still is now. I think I’ll pick up a bottle of their dressing today as a tribute to Sheila and toast to her life which served to enrich ours.
To read the NYTimes obituary http://bit.ly/2yX37