I was an incredibly fortunate young man when I was starting our as a cook way back in the early 80’s. At that time, there were few celebrity chefs, there were no television networks entirely devoted to cooking. And the glossy food magazines had articles by people like Richard Olney and Paula Wolfert, instead of following Bobby Flay around Manhattan looking for babes and BBQ.
Our culinary heroes back them were people who actually wrote their own books and cooked because it was their passion. Working at Chez Panisse, I was extremely fortunate to meet a lot of those people in person, including Jane Grigson, MFK Fisher, Maida Heatter, Julie Child, James Beard, and the aforementioned Richard Olney. Most of them are now gone, but there’s one person who is the last of the great, classic American cooks around: Marion Cunningham.
Our first interaction was when she came barreling in from the dining room, racing through the kitchen of Chez Panisse with her grey ponytail bobbing behind her, looking for the person who’d make …”that divine Butterscotch Ice Cream.” Fortunately that person was me, and for the next 15 years or so, I could reasonably be accused of bribing Marion whenever she came in with anything involving caramelized sugar; from salty Caramel Ice Cream (we both like it far before it was fashionable), to classic American Lemon Meringue Pie with an extra-deeply broiled topping I’d make just for her.
She loved them all.
But Marion was not a sugary-sweet person, in spite of her deep love for the stuff.