Paula Wolfert busy at work in her kitchen.  Photo by: Eric Wolfinger.

When the formidable Andrea Nguyen, author and teacher, wrote to me asking for help in promoting a kickstarter on behalf of a book about another of the country’s most important writers about food, I was eager to help. Within a day or two, Andrea wrote to say that they had reached their too-modest goal. But I still wanted to help and keep promoting because their print run is far smaller than it should be. This is potentially an important book about food and memory. So herewith, Andrea’s ode to Paula Wolfert (pictured above).–M.R.

By Andrea Nguyen

“I live in the now. I live for today and I make it work for me,” says Paula Wolfert in the Kickstarter video to fund a new book about her and her work. She’s speaking to lifestyle adjustments she’s made since her Alzheimer’s diagnosis several years ago. But that statement resonates with anyone looking to lead a balanced, healthy life. It’s timeless and inspiring, the embodiment of Paula, one of America’s culinary legends.

If you’re not familiar with Paula Wolfert, she is an adventurer and anthologist who championed duck confit, cassoulet and Aleppo pepper before they were trendy. Her books on Moroccan cuisine are revelatory classics. (The Food of Morocco and The Cooking of Southwest France are two examples.)

Considered the Queen of Mediterranean Cooking, she has always bridged global cuisines, identifying cultural patterns and connections by diving deep. For example, she suggests using a Chinese wok for a Catalan shrimp dish because it best approximates what she experienced in situ. The wok may sound strange but its design yields delicious results for that preparation.

Through nine cookbooks and a career spanning over fifty years, Paula has provoked and created space at the American table for new ideas. In many ways, her work has made my food career possible.

Courtesy of Paula Wolfert

Having known Paula’s work for years, I naturally offered to help my friend Emily Thelin (formerly an editor at Food & Wine) publish a biographical cookbook about Paula. We’ve been collaborating with photographer Eric Wolfinger and designer Toni Tajima since late 2014 to realize this important project. Between the four of us, we’ve worked on and produced many food publications and cookbooks.

By presenting Paula’s incredible story along with a collection of her brilliant recipes, we aim to honor her legacy. Additionally, we want to help her bust the stigma against Alzheimer’s by exploring the relationship between memory and food. We’ll be cooking many of the recipes with her.

To reflect Paula’s renegade spirit, we opted to crowdfund the publication and give it this title: Unforgettable: Bold Flavors from Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life. This is a marvelous experiment in small-batch, meaningful cookbook making.

The Unforgettable campaign launched on June 10. Media coverage was overwhelming—from Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Eater and others. Michael Pollan and Yotam Ottolenghi tweeted it! And Kickstarter made Unforgettable a staff pick – a major wonderful surprise.

Amazingly – and my head buzzes from thinking of this, we met our minimum in four days. Now we’re able to dream bigger, to push toward a stretch goal of roughly $80,000 to double the print run to 3,000 books. We need more people backing the project, and Michael generously offered assistance.

Check out the Unforgettable Kickstarter. We’d be grateful if you backed the campaign and shared it with friends. Support it in a way that’s meaningful to you.


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© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.