Two Queens of Cuisine died this week, Marion Cunningham and Sylvia Woods. I was lucky to have met both ladies during my career, and they were equally charming, gracious, talented, and quietly ambitious.
Marion Cunningham, known best as the author of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, was instrumental in reviving home cooking in this country. The author of eight cookbooks, host of a cooking program, and a longtime columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, Cunningham came very late to her career, venturing out of her proscribed San Francisco Bay life only in her 50s. Indeed, her image is one of kindly grandmother, which fit so well with the Fannie Farmer image. Yet, she influenced many generations of home cooks as well as top chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who, in a recent Epicurious interview, cited her pancakes as one of his favorite things to make.
Sylvia Woods also comfortably wore a grandmother halo. When she opened Sylvia’s in Harlem in 1962, the Harlem Renaissance had come and gone, and it was a depressed neighborhood with few restaurants. Sylvia became a waitress at a local luncheonette, and within a few years, had bought the place and transformed it into a beacon for the area. Her heart and soul were in every bowl of collard greens and smothered pork chops, and she brought joy, hospitality, and delicious food to the once blighted neighborhood. Today, her empire includes cookbooks, a burgeoning food product line, a catering arm, and a scholarship fund, and has fed the likes of President Obama and President Clinton, as well as food lovers from around the world.
Sylvia and Marion, we hope you ladies are being served your favorite food dishes in heaven.