On Friday night, the James Beard 2015 Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards were awarded, and the Cookbook Hall of Fame award went to Barbara Kafka. If her name isn’t familiar to you, you’re not alone. I wasn't aware of Kafka either. Since the award is given to a “cookbook or body of work that has significant and enduring impact on the way we cook and understand food,” I figured she's someone I should get to know.
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 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.
This video of clips of Kafka through the years went up on YouTube in 2008 and gives a picture of her personality, enthusiasm and style.
In addition to Kafka and her cookbooks, these are some of the other 2015 James Beard Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards handed out Friday night that are now on my radar.
- Beverage book award: “Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail” by Dave Arnold
- Podcast award: “The Feed Podcast” with hosts Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky
- Personal food blog award: Orangette by Molly Wizenberg
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