Marcella Hazan, the Italian cookbook author credited with introducing Americans to traditional Italian cooking, died Sept. 29, at her home on Longboat Key. She was 89.
Born in 1924, in Cesenatico, Italy, she remembered eating meals sideways at the table ready to jump up at a moment’s notice and run to the bomb shelter outside during World War II. The family always took their plates of food with them because food was scarce in those days.
Hazan became a biochemist and moved to New York after marrying her husband, Victor, in 1955. She didn’t speak a word of English and had never cooked a meal before in her life.
But as she began learning her way around the kitchen, she discovered that she had a cooking imprint in her mind.
Traditional Cesenatico dishes she watched her mother and grandmother prepare were soon replicated on the Hazan’s dinner table. Her science background also came into play.
“It’s all connected, food and nature,” Hazan told the Longboat Observer in a 2008 interview. “I tried to remember the taste of dishes, the smell, the look and tried to repeat that. I think I knew how to cook without realizing it.”
In New York, Hazan took a Chinese cooking class as a way to learn more about that style of cooking, even though Hazan never believed cooking could be something that was taught.
After the class’s teacher went on sabbatical, the group’s members asked Hazan to teach them traditional Italian dishes.
The cooking class led to a fortuitous meeting in October 1970 with Craig Claiborne, famed New York Times food writer.
Claiborne wrote about Hazan’s cooking classes. Her classes never lacked for participants after Claiborne’s article. A year later, the publisher of Harper’s Magazine Press asked Hazan to write a cookbook. It wasn’t something she ever thought she would do, but her first book, “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” was published in 1972.
Hazan went on to publish six cookbooks and a 2008 memoir, “Amarcord: Marcella Remembers.”
Her son, Giuliano Hazan, also became a noted cookbook author and educator whose school, Cooking with Giuliano Hazan, is widely acclaimed.
Hazan was the recipient of many culinary awards, including the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hazan is survived by her husband, Victor; son, Giuliano; and two granddaughters.
For more information, pick up an Oct. 3 copy of the Longboat Observer.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].