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2016 JBF Cookbook Hall of Fame: Deborah Madison

Hsiao-Ching Chou

April 26, 2016

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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.

In an age when cookbook buyers shop with their eye trained on pretty pictures, it is a testament to Deborah Madison’s evocative writing that her most vaunted cookbook, the encyclopedic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1997), has very few. The revised edition, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (2014), has no photographs at all. 

Madison is exacting in her scholarship and generous in her wisdom, a kitchen guide whose intention is to impart the knowledge that sets home cooks free from written recipes and instills the confidence to improvise according to the seasons or what’s at hand. Over the years, hundreds of readers have emailed her to extol the virtues of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and she has seen “utterly destroyed copies in restaurants and monasteries, books with stained, swollen, and warped pages.”

It was her inaugural The Greens Cookbook (1987), inspired by her experience as the founding chef of Greens Restaurant, that began her career as the voice of plant-based cooking. By shifting the language to focus on celebrating plant foods as ingredients that any home cook, regardless of diet, can easily incorporate into meals, she pulled the once-relegated concept of vegetarian cooking into the mainstream. (Madison herself is not a vegetarian.) She is an advocate, a storyteller, and a champion of the wondrous, intimate details of plant life: “It is visual, tactile, aromatic, and mysterious. Plant foods range from jewel-like beans with their stripes and patterns, to subtle grains, strangely beautiful seaweeds, the aromas of herbs and spices...it was this edible circus that started me cooking…”

Madison has published 11 books and has at least two more in the works. She has earned numerous awards for her writing and achievements, including three James Beard Book Awards for Vegetable Literacy (2014), Local Flavors (2002), and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1998). She also was inducted in 2005 to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.

It is with great pleasure and respect for Madison’s body of work that the James Beard Foundation welcomes her to the Cookbook Hall of Fame.

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Hsiao-Ching Chou is a member of the James Beard Foundation Book Awards Committee.