The New York Times reported this morning that Marion Cunningham, known by many prominent chefs and food writers as a mother figure, died at age 90.
She overcame agoraphophia to evolve into an enthusiastic advocate of home cooking. “More than anyone else, she gave legitimacy to home cooking,” Michael Bauer, the executive food editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, said of Mrs. Cunningham. “She took what many people would say was housewife food and really gave it respect by force of her own personality.”
“No one is cooking at home anymore, so we are losing all the wonderful lessons we learn at the dinner table,” she said in an interview in 2002. “… As a result we are losing an important value. Food is more than fodder. It is an act of giving and receiving because the experience at table is a communal sharing; talk begins to flow, feelings are expressed, and a sense of well-being takes over.”
Marion not only supported young cooks’ efforts in home kitchens. She had the great good fortune to live on the cusp of the organic food movement in this country when renowned food writer James Beard took her under wing, and for 11 years assisted him in creating cooking classes in the Bay Area. “Her association with Mr. Beard also gave her the big break of her career, in the late 1970s, when he passed her name to Judith Jones, the well-known New York culinary editor [Judith published Julia Child’s, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”], who was looking for someone to rewrite “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.”
Marion introduced James Beard to, then young, Alice Waters whose new restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley had just opened. Beard put Chez Panisse on the culinary map. Marion was a mother figure and friend to many other prominent food icons, like Ruth Reichl of the New York Times and Gourmet Magazine, and Chuck Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma.
Her passion for home cooking exemplified a life well-lived and well-remembered. Marion Cunningham’s impact on the food world is a reminder to us all to live what we love. We only need to pay attention to the voice that already knows.