Sonoma resident and world cookbook author Paula Wolfert received the James Beard Foundation’s 2018 Lifetime Achievements Award on May 7 in Chicago’s Lyric Opera House.
The James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement award is bestowed upon a person in the industry whose lifetime body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and think about food in America.
Wolfert grew up in Brooklyn and dropped out of Columbia after her first year. At her mother’s suggestion, she took cooking classes from such luminaries as Dione Lucas, the first woman to have a cooking show on television. Eventually she worked for Lucas and James Beard himself.
Wolfert fell in love with Moroccan and Mediterranean food, and was the first adventurous American cook to live with and cook at the elbow of home cooks at their stoves in several countries, learning as she went.
Fortunately Wolfert turned all of this culinary education and experience into cookbooks from which thousands of restaurant professionals and home chefs have cooked and loved. One of those, Marrakesh native Mourad Lahlou of Mourad Restaurant on New Montgomery Street in San Francisco, introduced Wolfert at the awards ceremony Monday in Chicago. He said he regards Wolfert as his mentor and she sees him as a mentee, and he has done very well by her teaching.
Wolfert’s first cookbook, “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco,” was published in 1973. It, like all of her cookbooks, have become entertaining research efforts that tell the cultural and culinary customs of wherever she learns and writes.
At the awards presentation on Monday in Chicago, Wolfert wore the same dress she wore for the ceremony 10 years ago when she received the 2008 James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame Award for her first cookbook, “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.”
On receiving this latest award, Wolfert said, it “is especially meaningful to me because I knew Jim Beard well and, in fact, back in 1957 he gave me my first professional job in food,” said Wolfert. “I’ve spent most of my adult life exploring the cuisines of the Mediterranean, striving to find the best versions of great dishes of the region, then passing on the recipes and stories of Mediterranean women who cooked them in my various books. Over the years the James Beard Foundation has honored many of them. I view this latest honor as the keystone in the arch of my career.”
In honoring her, the James Beard Foundation noted that: “Since 2013, Paula has devoted her time and efforts as an activist for Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, an early stage of Alzheimer’s, Paula ultimately made the decision to stop teaching and writing in recent years to devote herself to Alzheimer’s activism, speaking out about the disease and raising awareness on preventive measures.”
Her books are available in Sonoma at Ramekins, Bram cookware, and Readers’ Books.