Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Remembering Sheila Lukins

Sheila Lukins--co-founder and co-author with Julee Rosso of The Silver Palate food shop on Manhattan's Upper West Side and the cookbooks that sprang from their catering business-- died late in August last year. She was only 66.

I never knew Sheila Lukins personally, never even met her. Yet I--like millions of others-- spent hours in her company, learning the recipes in the Silver Palate cookbooks. Not just learning recipes, but learning something about dining and hospitality and the presentation of good food, each of which is an art form, surely each protected by one of the spirits in the train of Bacchus.

Sheila Lukins cast a light glamour over the well-laid table.

"At Easter time," she (and Rosso, with Sarah Leah Chase) wrote in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (1984),"...find tiny little chevre balls or shape your own small egg shapes using soft Montrachet logs. Roll the cheese in Easter-colored herbs and spices. Choose dry lavender, rich curry powder, crushed pink peppercorns, freeze-dried green peppercorns, crushed pecans, and almonds, and paprika."

In the same book: "taleggio is a star of that hazy galaxy of soft, full-fat Lombardian semisoft cheeses known as stracchino..." "this fondue is both elegant and gutsy in flavor" "carefully place a few orange nasturtium or chrysanthemum blossoms on the platter for a dazzle of color" "the luscious flavor of the duck juices comes through the rutabagas, and all is sprinkled with caraway seeds" "we paint our canvas with arugula and herb infusions, mild leek stuffings, and colorful sautes."

To top it off, Lukins drew charming, vibrant pictures to accompany the text throughout: apples, pears and a goat in silhouette on one page, ducks marching across another page, a lobster splayed across cantaloupe slices and tomatoes elsewhere.

As Lukins and her co-authors put it: "When we begin to plan a party at The Silver Palate, we think of it as making magic."

Bon appetit, Sheila Lukins, et merci!

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