I’ve been steeped in working on the pho cookbook but I’ve also been moonlighting on another project that’s dear to my heart – a Kickstarter to publish a biographical cookbook about Paula Wolfert. She’s a culinary legend, a food hero to me in many ways. Do you know her? Paula is an adventurer, renegade and anthologist. If you’re familiar with duck confit, cassoulet and Aleppo pepper, you have Paula Wolfert to thank. She introduced and championed those ingredients and foods long before they were trendy. I’ve cooked many of Paula’s recipes and they are head turners, brilliant in offering up wonderful flavors, cooking techniques, and cultural insights.
Paula is the Queen of Mediterranean Cooking but she also works to bridge global cuisines. That’s because she examines a lot of traditional foodways and conveys them to modern cooks. She identifies patterns. In her cookbooks (she’s written nine), she’ll call for using a wok to make a Spanish dish because that tool best approximates what she experienced on the ground when she tasted the dish.
Paula has made space at the American table for new ideas and ingredients. Her work, in part, has made my career possible.
Several years ago Paula was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. My friend Emily Thelin (formerly an editor at Food & Wine) wanted to write a biography about Paula. I offered to help.