Sheila Lukins (1942-2009)
August 31, 2009 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Sheila Lukins - one of the most important figures in the American food revolution - has died of a brain tumor at the age of 66.

A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Lukins worked with Michelin-starred chefs in Bordeaux. In 1977, she teamed with Julee Rosso to open a gourmet food shop at the corner of Columbus Avenue and 73rd Street in Manhattan called The Silver Palate. The success of the shop led to The Silver Palate Cookbook - which is now one of the ten bestselling cookbooks of all time. Lukins and Rosso patched up a longstanding feud in time for the book's 25th anniversary. Lukins also wrote a long-running food column for Parade magazine - a position formerly held by someone else you may have heard of.
posted by Joe Beese (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Whoa! That's really too bad. I wasn't a fan of many of her later books, but the Silver Palates, and The New Basics, are great.
posted by OmieWise at 1:41 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh, sad. Too young.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:42 PM on August 31, 2009

I cannot recall ever seeing a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook in mint condition. That is to say, the familiar burgundy tome found on so many cookbook shelves is used, frequently, and most often exists in a food-stained, broken-spined, frayed, and annotated state.
My copy of The New Basics fits that description, for sure. It was one of the only things that my ex and I fought over when we split after a 10-year marriage.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:44 PM on August 31, 2009

What a shame. My copy of the original Silver Palate book has devolved into a stack of individual pages held together by a giant binder clip.

According to the feud link, Lukens recovered from a cerebral hemmorhage in 1991.
posted by padraigin at 1:49 PM on August 31, 2009

What a shame.

I think my mother might have a copy of Silver Palate, but then again she seems to have every known recipe book on the face of this earth.
posted by Askiba at 1:53 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh, hell's bells. My copy of The Silver Palate - before it vanished in a move? I guess? - was broken, stained, dog-eared, sticky.

Thanks, Sheila.

posted by rtha at 1:59 PM on August 31, 2009

Ah, the Silver Palate... my first real cookbook, and my introduction to a whole array of tastes and ingredients that I'd never encountered growing up. (Pine nuts! Basil! Sun-dried tomatoes!) My boyfriend and I lived off of endless batches of the chilled cucumber-and-shrimp soup for most of one summer.
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on August 31, 2009

Wow. When I moved out on my own, my mother gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking and The New Basics and told me I now had no excuses if I starved. TNB is the secret weapon that all my friends don't know about when they ask me how I got to be such a good cook. Thanks Sheila. To you, every night, I raise my fork in gratitude.

posted by greekphilosophy at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2009

I, too, have stained and dog-eared copies of her cookbooks. They are often the first ones I turn to for a recipe. Her triple ginger cookies are always a hit, including the time I made them for a mefi meetup.

Thanks for all the good food.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Silver Palate is one of those cookbooks (along Marcella Hazan's books) where I keep trying a recipe that looks interesting only to discover that "oh my god, this is is exactly what my parents used to make!" It's like when as a kid you first start to realize that your parents are only human after all, but in a grown up kind of way. Thank you Silver Palate (and Sheila Lukins) for helping me grow up to love and understand good food.
posted by aspo at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh no! The Silver Palate books are sacred texts in my family. And I just spent the weekend reading (and thoroughly enjoying) her All Around the World Cookbook.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 2:56 PM on August 31, 2009

The New Basics is a staggering volume of delicious information. The recipes themselves are almost second fiddle to the timeless diagrams, charts, and lists of ingredients and their best preparations and pairings. And the 3-course meal recommendations are spot-on. I think some JalepeƱo Chili or Cajun Meatloaf is in order this week. Thanks Sheila!

posted by sharkitect at 3:31 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh, how sad. She was one of my favorite cookbook authors. The Silver Palate books are my favorite source for ... what to call it? New American food? Ethnic food that's been co-opted into American cuisine?

Anyway, they bridged an important gap between The Joy of Cooking (American standards, but bland and boring) and high-powered tomes like The Art of French Cooking (expensive and intimidating dishes with narrow safety margins). Perfect for an intermediate cook wanting to learn how to make highly flavorful yet rather forgiving dishes. I owe much of my reputation as a good cook to her' books. Thank you, Ms Lukins.
posted by Quietgal at 4:44 PM on August 31, 2009

Both The New Basics and Silver Palette softcovers were very poorly bound. The binding glue was brittle and my backup copies (given to me as gifts) were never opened until recently and... guess what? They spines immediately cracked upon opening and a big center section of pages fell out.
posted by bz at 5:38 PM on August 31, 2009

My copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook is actually in very good condition, since I haven't used it yet. Any favorite recipes?
posted by grouse at 6:03 PM on August 31, 2009

posted by briank at 6:20 PM on August 31, 2009

If you eat chicken, grouse (ha!), their Chicken Marbella is fantastic.
posted by rtha at 6:22 PM on August 31, 2009

A sad day. I've been using The Silver Palate Cookbook for twenty-five years, and it is as described, dog-eared and stained by buttery fingers.

grouse, the carrot cake recipe is the best of many I've tried. The Chunky Apple Walnut Cake is also excellent, and appropriate for this time of year. The TSPC version of cassoulet is complicated, but very good. 'Our Favorite Vinaigrette' is my favorite vinaigrette, too.

TSPS is not infallible. I tried two of their chocolate cakes and didn't think either of them worked, and I find I've scribbled the word 'Terrible!' in the margin beside the bread pudding recipe. But when TSPC is good, it's very, very good.

posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:25 PM on August 31, 2009


I also love The All Around The World Cookbook.
posted by uaudio at 8:08 PM on August 31, 2009


Sorry to hear of this, she still had so much more to offer.
posted by dejah420 at 6:44 AM on September 1, 2009

Grouse, roll up your sleeves and try the giant sandwich recipe -- with suitable alterations to fit your tastes & situation, of course.

My mom made that sammich for us a few times when I was a kid (like graduation and some other major family parties) and I still remember those meals fondly. Man, the leftovers went on for days!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2009

If I were at home, I could go through and tell by the stained pages which recipes are our favorites, but I know you can't go wrong with the Pot Roast Pasta.

One of my favorite quotes from The Silver Palate Cookbook is "Cooking should be entered into with abandon, or not at all." The recipes are generous, enthusiastic, and approachable. I assume the authors are like that, too. I imagine Ms. Lukens lived life to the fullest.
posted by tizzie at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2009

For me, the Silver Palate Cookbook was where my mom went for food that was interesting but still tasted good. She came from a solid background of good Midwestern Scandinavian home cooking, with most dinners cooked from scratch and sometimes improvised on the fly. (She still adamantly refuses to get a microwave.) Thinking about how she wanted to do something more, however, it makes sense to me that she would love the Silver Palate.

Back in the '80s, when we lived in a fairly chi-chi East Coast area, dinner parties and "dos" were pretty common, so she'd make something out of SP or the Frog Commissary Cookbook (another intriguing one) and off we'd go. Nothing resembling ambrosia or potato salad ever came out of our kitchen.

So when I started cooking on my own, or looking for recipes and flavor combinations that would really impress someone with my knowledge of fresh, modern but accessible cooking (or just not replicate the other stuff at the potluck), you can bet that's where I turned. I think the key was knowing that it wouldn't be heavy or ultra-complex, just interesting and good -- the kind of food that made you say, "huh, I never thought about that, but why not?" before melting into some sort of pleased expression on first bite.

Screw Rombauer and Becker. When I got my first apartment, I got a copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook.
posted by Madamina at 9:53 AM on September 1, 2009

I first encountered the Silver Palate Cookbook when I was interning for the State Department in Munich -- I'm a pretty good cook, always have been, but a friend of mine who worked for USIA wanted me to cater a party she was throwing (it was sweet of her, being in college I totally needed the work!), and this was the cookbook she threw and me and said "here, have a look..." Still haven't gotten around to getting my own copy yet but totally should!
posted by at 10:53 AM on September 1, 2009

My copies are indeed battered and stained. When I read this post, I was biting in to a cobbler made from a New basics recipe.

For a couple of decades now, I've made a (modified) version of the TSPC gazpacho every summer Sunday. And Chicken Monterey is such a staple, I never even look at the recipe anymore.

Thank you, Sheila.
posted by goofyfoot at 12:29 PM on September 1, 2009

The SP carrot cake is definitely a classic. Like Slithy_Tove, I have found a few clunkers (although in The New Basics more than in SP), but SP was the first cookbook I bought when I was on my own and developing my own palate. It was also the first cookbook I read for pure reading enjoyment that wasn't written by Jim Beard.

Lukins and Rosso really shaped a generational palate, along with the very first Martha Stewart books (i.e., Entertaining and Weddings). I catered alumni events out of those books for years, and the food would not be out of place on a table today, 25 years later.
posted by catlet at 2:51 PM on September 1, 2009

I bought a copy of The New Basics in college and that same copy has been heavily and most lovingly used these 20 years since. In grad school I met the guy I new was The One and invited him over for dinner. I made the Beef Wellington dish on page 493. We celebrate our 11th anniversary next week and he *still talks about the Beef Wellington I made that night.

posted by njbradburn at 10:37 PM on September 4, 2009

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