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’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.

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.

One of the reasons I follow the James Beard Awards each year is because they introduce me to people, cookbooks, blogs, restaurants, magazines and more that help enrich my culinary journey. I may not have been aware of Kafka before this weekend, but now that I am, I will be seeking out her cookbooks at my beloved library book sales.

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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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Meet Barbara Kafka, the 2015 James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame winner
The author, journalist and teacher won the honor for her 'series of remarkable cookbooks.'