(Emily Langer’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 2/10; via Karen Schimmel; PHOTO: Maria Guarnaschelli, right, with her daughter, chef Alex Guarnaschelli, in New York in 2013. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Network Magazine.)
Maria Guarnaschelli, an indomitable cookbook editor who forged a new canon of kitchen classics and brought her exacting tastes — both literary and culinary — to undertakings including a massive update of the time-honored tome “Joy of Cooking,” died Feb. 6 in Manhasset, N.Y. She was 79.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Alex Guarnaschelli, a prominent New York chef and regular on Food Network programming. The cause was complications of heart disease, according to an announcement from the publishing house W.W. Norton, where Mrs. Guarnaschelli had been a vice president and senior editor for nearly two decades until her retirement in 2017. She had spent the earlier years of her career at Scribner and William Morrow.
Mrs. Guarnaschelli was widely recognized as one of the most influential forces in the world of cookbook publishing, cultivating writers whose cooking guides became mainstays of American kitchens. Her reputation grew along with their success.
“I’m a powerful woman,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. “Even my husband has told me he’s a little afraid of me. I’m unconventional. I’m relentless. I’m passionate. When I believe in something, I’m like a … warrior. That’s frightening to people. Maybe in another century I would have been a witch and burned at the stake.”
She earned the devoted loyalty of many of her writers, who over the years included Jeff Smith of the “Frugal Gourmet” franchise; Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of “The Cake Bible” (1988) and other baking classics; Lynne Rossetto Kasper, former host of the popular public radio program “The Splendid Table”; Judy Rodgers, author of “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook” (2002); Molly Stevens, author of “All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking” (2004); and J. Kenji López-Alt, author of “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” (2015).
“She didn’t just make beautiful cookbooks,” culinary expert Rick Rodgers said in an interview, reflecting on Mrs. Guarnaschelli’s career. “She made cookbooks that changed the way Americans cook.”
For Mrs. Guarnaschelli, her manuscripts were not the kitchen equivalent of coffee table books — things of beauty that telegraphed sophistication but rarely imparted it from their places of repose. Rather, cookbooks were essential tools to be written with professionalism and precision.
Working on “The Cake Bible,” Mrs. Guarnaschelli supported the author when she insisted that the book include weight as well as volume, affording more exact measurements of flour and sugar than the cups and tablespoons most commonly used in American kitchens.
“Who but Maria would have had the daring to publish a cookbook with charts and weights and put her heart and soul into the work,” Levy Beranbaum wrote in a tribute to Mrs. Guarnaschelli. They worked together on seven volumes, Levy Beranbaum said in an interview; ‘The Cake Bible” is today in its 56th printing.
In international cuisine, Mrs. Guarnaschelli was credited with elevating the sophistication of books available to American home chefs through her work with writers including Julie Sahni — author of “Classic Indian Cooking” (1980), which was Mrs. Guarnaschelli’s first cookbook — Rick Bayless, a doyen of Mexican cuisine; and Fuchsia Dunlop, a food writer who specializes in Chinese cooking.
She allowed them “to use unusual and exotic ingredients with no apology,” Rodgers observed. “The reader had to come up to the level of the author. The author did not come down to the level of the home cook and make excuses like, ‘I know you’re not going to be able to find this chili . . .’ ”
Mrs. Guarnaschelli took on her most high-profile project in the early 1990s at Scribner, which by then was the publisher of “Joy of Cooking,” the gargantuan red-and-white volume that generations of women received when they married or otherwise left home. By the time Mrs. Guarnaschelli’s update of the book was published in 1997, the saga had become, in the description of the Los Angeles Times, “one of the biggest cookbook stories of the decade.”