Marcella Hazan, 1924-2013: An Appreciation

Her immeasurable influence even touched professionals, including chef Cathy Pavlos

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Sunday morning the sad news of Marcella Hazan’s death at 89 flew to every corner of the foodosphere. I doubt any other American food figure has had as wide an influence. Julia Child, while rightly revered for her infectious joie de vivre, is as much an aspirational figure as a cook. Not that Child’s recipes aren’t fabulous—it’s just that Italian cuisine is so perfectly simpatico with American kitchens. Crack open any of Marcella’s cookbooks, and you’ll find yourself cooking exactly the type of food that everybody wants to eat.

Cathy Pavlos, chef-owner of Lucca Cafe in Irvine and upcoming Provenance restaurant in Newport Beach, has a special place in her heart for Hazan. “Next to my grandma, Marcella was my greatest inspiration for Italian cuisine,” she says. “It’s funny, but when I got a recipe from one of my cousins in Italy, I always checked to see what Marcella advised on the same recipe. So many times, it was nearly the same. Her books explaining Italian culture and culinary techniques are so accessible. She was able to speak to experienced chefs as well as home cooks. She will always be the grand dame and final word of Italian cuisine to me.”

Marcella’s work included some very well-known contributions to the wider food world. Proper fresh pasta, for instance, including something very important and often ignored: When to use fresh, and when dry. Also, a strange, expensive, sweet-tart dark liquid doled out in drizzles (as opposed to drowning): Balsamic vinegar. She lived long enough to rue their respective misuses, and kept on cooking.

In recent years Marcella was active on Facebook, chatting with her legion of adoring fans. She even commented on a conversation of mine once, in which I advocated (again) that her books are better for vegetarians than any written with that audience in mind. Def one of those I-love-the-modern-world moments. She totally agreed about Italian vegetable cookery, by the way, posting that she’d always wanted to compile the vegetable recipes from all her books into a separate volume, and had even suggested it to her publisher.

Marcella was married since 1955 to Victor Hazan, a wine and food scholar in his own right who transcribed all her work. Sunday, Victor posted this lovely tribute on her Facebook page: “Marcella, my incomparable companion, died this morning a few steps away from her bed. She was the truest and the best, and so was her food.”

More from Cathy Pavlos, whose Lucca Cafe won “Best Mediterranean” at Sunday’s Golden Foodie Awards: Her new garden-to-plate Provenance is slated for a December opening. You can read the complete list of Golden Foodie winners here.

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