Marcella Hazan, Charlie Trotter, and now Judy Rodgers — 2013 is shaping up as the year the food
world sheds tears for those lost. Each of these iconic figures had a special place in my life. From Hazan, not only did I learn the basics of Italian cooking, but how to really follow directions. Her recipes seem simple, and they work, but she was extremely specific about each step. You will have success if you follow my teaching, she ordered. And she was right.
Charlie Trotter, whose food was so exquisite and so complex that I really never tried to cook it (though I read the books), taught me the dedication of a chef who cares passionately about his craft and his restaurant. I once interviewed him in Boston when he came to an event that had him cooking in a tiny, hot kitchen on Columbus Avenue. He couldn’t talk until after 11 pm because he was committed to cooking through the dinner service. Then we talked for over an hour past midnight in a stuffy basement office. He was most upset that the hired valet at the front door had not greeted customers with enough sincerity and hospitality.
And Judy Rodgers, who died at only 57. When I interviewed her at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, she was disarming and unpretentious, and had written a cookbook published in 2003 that delved into the kind of technique that was dying out even then. Her Roast Chicken with Bread Salad is one of the best recipes ever — it’s complicated, and time-consuming, and delicious, and worth the trouble.
For all of these chefs, the food was what mattered — not the glory or the TV lights — but the food. What they taught us was that the food was infinitely worth the trouble.