Julia Child considered her “one of the few food writers whose recipes I trust.” Craig Claiborne called her “one of the finest and most influential food writers in this country…one of the leading lights in contemporary gastronomy.”
She has published 8 cookbooks, all painstakingly researched, meticulously written, and known for being absolutely authentic. From France and Morocco, to Syria and Turkey, she traveled, studied traditions and regional ingredients, and brought them home for us.
She introduced Americans to new flavors like Aleppo peppers and Lacinto kale from Italy, which have become a part of the food landscape we take for granted today.
Paula Wolfert did for Mediterranean food what Julia Child did for French cuisine in America. She was ahead of her time, preaching whole grains and healthy greens, slow cooking, whole animal cooking, authentic regional ingredients, preserving and more. And yet …
“Paula Wolfert may be the most influential cookbook author you’ve never heard of,” says Emily Kaiser Thelin, author of the new culinary biography Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life.
Wolfert published her first book, Couscous And Other Good Food From Morocco, in 1973. It has since become a classic, and was entered into the Cookbook Hall of Fame at the 2008 James Beard Foundation Awards.
She went on to share Mediterranean recipes in several influential volumes. No cookbook collection is complete without at least one of her seminal volumes.
The Cooking of South-West France came out in 1983, after she traveled around the region in search of – what else? – the perfect cassoulet, and discovered “a magnificent peasant cookery in the process of being updated.” While in the region she spent time with Chef André Daguin, the father of D’Artagnan founder and owner Ariane Daguin.
Of the area Paula said, “Southwest France is very much part of the Mediterranean. Most French food isn’t very forceful; it’s delicate, complex and built on subtlety. But the southwest employs robust ingredients – truffles, peppers, cepes and chicken and goose fat; hardly subtle ingredients. ” This book is a favorite in the D’Artagnan library.
Wolfert changed the way we eat and think about food, but has not enjoyed the wide renown that other food writers have. Her legacy was in danger of being forgotten; complicated by the fact that Wolfert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, and is forgetting her own story.
Enter Emily Kaiser Thelin, a food writer and editor, who had befriended her idol Wolfert some years ago, and got to work and travel with her. Knowing the years of experience and knowledge that Wolfert held, Thelin proposed a biography to bring much-deserved attention to her work. Time was of the essence, as Paula’s remarkable memory began to fail her.
After being turned down by several publishers, Thelin began a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to publish the biography – with recipes, of course. The response from the food world was overwhelming, and the campaign more than doubled its goal in four days. Publishers took note.
Unforgettable was published this spring, and the reviews are glowing. It’s even on the JP Morgan summer reading list. Learn more about the book, Wolfert’s inspiring story, and the influence she’s had at Food52, the San Francisco Chronicle, or the New York Times. Then get your copy and dig into a really tasty story.
We are big fans of Paula Wolfert at D’Artagnan, and she graciously shared some of her recipes with us. Her tagine recipe is a classic, and it does require a clay tagine (a good excuse to shop). As with everything Paula does, authenticity is key.
As you may know, we follow the cassoulet recipe authentic to Auch, Ariane’s hometown, which has a lot of duck in it, and no crumbs on top. Wolfert did find her perfect cassoulet and published the Toulouse-style cassoulet recipe, shared with her by Pierrette Lejanou.
Are you a Paula Wolfert fan? Do you have a favorite cookbook or recipe that you go back to again and again? Tell us about it in the comments, or find us on social media. Tag @dartagnanfoods on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And pin with us on Pinterest.
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Great post! I will have to check out her books.