The James Beard Foundation joins the culinary community and the city of Durham, North Carolina in mourning the loss of Karen Barker. Barker, a JBF Award–winning pastry chef and former co-owner of Durham's influential Magnolia Grill, died on February 2 from metastatic cancer at the age of 61.
Barker opened Magnolia Grill with her husband, JBF Award–winning chef Ben Barker, in 1986, serving seasonal fare in a fine dining setting, and quickly becoming leading forces in the rise of New American cuisine. Barker's fanciful desserts (especially her pies) soon became a major draw for diners, and earned her the 2003 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. She was also the author of two cookbooks, Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill (with Ben), and Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts.
The Barkers closed Magnolia Grill in 2012, but remained in the restaurant industry, going on to help their son Gabe Barker open Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro in 2015. Ever dedicated to her craft, Karen launched the restaurant's dessert menu, which featured seasonal gelato and other Italian sweets. She will be dearly missed.