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2015 JBF Cookbook Hall of Fame: Barbara Kafka

Naomi Duguid

April 24, 2015

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This award is given to a cookbook or body of work that has had a significant and enduring impact on the way we cook and understand food.

“I love food of all kinds, lean and meaty, acid and sweet, elegant and down to earth. I hope I can give my readers some of my pleasure, my love.” These words by Barbara Kafka, this year’s Cookbook Hall of Fame honoree, give a sense of the intensity of her passion for writing meticulous and generous cookbooks.

A prodigious researcher, a gifted writer with a clear voice and a sharp intellect, a compulsive accumulator of facts and data, and a wonderfully precise creator of recipes, Barbara Kafka has given us 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 broke new ground with the best-selling Microwave Gourmet in 1987, turning the microwave into a true versatile kitchen tool. In 1995 Roasting: A Simple Art completely changed the way we think about that subject. Until then, roasting had been a slow, low-temperature process; her high-temperature roasting technique overnight became the new normal.

Her other books, including Party Food (1992); Soup, A Way of Life (1998); and Vegetable Love (2005), are a delight to read and to cook from; they’re loaded with facts and information, with precise headnotes and practical, delicious recipes. And while Kafka has always taken cookbook writing very seriously, she is also funny and extremely generous, both on the page and in person. Her books are smart, provocative, and entertaining.

Kafka’s most recent book, The Intolerant Gourmet (2011), is a guide for lovers of good food who have food intolerances. The play-on-words in the title reflects not just her wit and her distaste for the ersatz in food, but the pleasure she takes in making her readers smile.

Barbara Kafka has indeed given us her pleasure and her love, as well as a high standard of cookbook writing to aspire to.