Chefs, Cooking, Craftsmanship, Field Notes, Modern Grange, Supper series

The Unforgettable Paula Wolfert

Paula Wolfert
“Good food is memory.” —Paula Wolfert

 

“Paula Wolfert,” says her editor and food biographer Emily Thelin, “is the most influential food writer you’ve never heard of.”

Yet, if you’ve ever enjoyed a cassoulet or confit, delighted at a preserved lemon tucked into a dish, fluffed couscous with a fork or cooked in a tangine, you owe a culinary debt to Paula Wolfert — even if you’ve never heard of her.

Paula is the intrepid food journalist and chef who brought such delicacies as cassoulet and preserved lemons to American palates via her nine cookbooks, beginning with Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, published in 1973.

Following her first husband to Morocco in the ’60s, Paula became restless with the ennui of the bohemian expat crowd and instead turned her fine intelligence to the sights and smells of the souk, and finally to the kitchens and tables of the Moroccan people who frequented its food stalls.

Famous for nearly moving in with her subjects, Paula eventually found ease with seven languages, allowing her to move into the kitchens and homes of people across western Europe. An expert on Mediterranean cooking, including our favorite Clay Pot Cooking, Paula introduced French country cooking to an avid audience.

Now 78, Paula is a longtime resident of the town of Sonoma, where she shares a home with her husband, the writer William Bayer. She’s still on a mission, but its aim has altered. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013, Paula can no longer differentiate tastes but she can still enjoy the kitchen.

Rather than examine the traditions of a particular geographical area, her focus today is on brain-healthy foods that she hopes will forestall the worst of her disease as long as possible.

Paula’s editor Emily Thelin (pictured above) realized that now is the time to capture Paula’s food memories and best recipes in a new collection and set about trying to sell the proposal through regular New York publishing channels. No one committed.

So she did what we do these days, she took it to Kickstarter, where 1,112 people donated to the cause, raising $91,000 and catching  the interest of both famed food photographer Eric Wolfinger and acclaimed food writer Andrea Nguyen, who agreed to edit the text.

The resulting book, Unforgettable, gathers together some of Paula’s favorite and most iconic recipes along with a lively biography peppered with intelligent asides by Thelin throughout.

A loving and alacritive recent article by New York Times food writer Kim Severson looks at Paula’s current life, after the book’s publication, where she is still active in the kitchen and able to surprise both her biographer and her assistants.

Accompanied by photographer Wolfinger, Thelin and Paula come to SHED on Sunday, June 4, for a special celebration dinner. Each diner will receive a copy of Unforgettable as part of the night. Our chef Perry Hoffman has created a splendid Middle Eastern-themed dinner in Paula’s honor.

“I don’t remember yesterday,” Paula says plainly to the camera in her Kickstarter film. “Tomorrow, I could get hit by a car. So I live in the now and I make it work for me.”

It appears that there’s more to learn from Paula after all.

The Unforgettable dinner honoring Paula Wolfert is slated for Sunday, June 4, from 5pm. $115 per person; includes the book. RSVP today.

Artisan Producers, Chefs, Cooking, Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, HomeFarm, Modern Grange, Nonprofits

2015: Hitting Our Groove

Was 2015 the year we hit our groove? It certainly feels like it.

2015 was the year that we welcomed new Culinary Director Perry Hoffman to our kitchen, launched dinner service, and saw a gratifying response from diners and critics alike.

It was the year that we devoted the entire month of October to learning about and immersing ourselves in the art, food, and culture of Japan.

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It was another year of Biodynamic agriculture education, of the Brave New Music series, of celebrating the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, and of happily hosting site-specific works from the UPside Dance Company in our Grange.

We were fortunate to have such master chefs as Sonoko Sakai, Mamiko Nishiyama, Kyle McConnaughton, Ali Bouzari, Dan Felder, Russell Moore, Alison Hopelain, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Steven Satterfield, and Thomas McNaughton come cook with us and teach us in 2015.

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We hosted communal knitting nights with master crafters on hand to assist, and a communal reading night in which we pulled out our extensive library collection of books on food and agriculture to share. We lit the Grange with candles and had a meditative walk to honor the winter solstice; we filled the Grange with cushions and turned it into an ad hoc zazen for meditation.

We learned to dye cloth using natural materials and dived deeply into the re-emergence of locally grown indigo and its uses.

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We ran a cooking class series just for kids and took groups to our beloved Healdsburg Farmers’ Market before feeding them a hearty family-style lunch made from the goodies found there.

We had in-depth beekeeping classes and another workshop on pollinators of all types. (We also built and donated an Insect House that school children love!) We celebrated apples and soil. We learned to make books and about spoon carving.

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Frances Moore Lappé spoke to us of hope and foresight. Nicolette Hahn Niman and other experts taught about the importance of raising grass while raising beef. Master ceramicist Shiro Otani made an exclusive U.S. appearance with his wheel to demonstrate the ancient craft he has so gracefully modernized.

We made hot sauce and chocolate, crafted galettes, Shrubs and Shims, and cut enough fresh soba noodles for a (very) small village. We made yogurt and cheese — and sneaked back to taste more.

We showed films about the politics of food, the metaphor of gleaning, the life of the farm. We devoted an entire day to the intricacies of crafting a successful Thanksgiving meal, celebrated the work of the Famers Guild, and helped build the ranks of the North Coast Grain Alliance. West Coast Live returned for two live broadcasts that highlighted some of our favorite local thinkers, activists, and artists and filled our seats to bursting.

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Most of all: We gave thanks.

We continue to give thanks. With nearly 80 events enlivening our Grange and retail spaces in 2015, we are thankful to the community that gathers around us, the experts who enlighten us, and the farmers and chefs who feed us. We are thankful to you.

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With full hearts, we thank everyone who reads our newsletter, checks this blog, comes into our store, sips something good at our Fermentation Bar, buys a bunch of our flowers, hangs out at our Coffee Bar, grabs a bite at the Café, and lingers over something special in our retail hall. Together, this community of supporters, learners, eaters, producers, and growers has made 2015 a truly special year for us.

Here’s to an even more spectacular 2016 for all!

With peace and love,

Healdsburg SHED