Marcella Hazan died this past Sunday at age 89. I mourn her passing along with millions of people around the globe who read her cookbooks or were lucky enough to take a class at her cooking school in Venice, Italy. Mrs. Hazan was known for her passion for Italian cooking and for precise, yet simple recipes that helped countless Americans learn to cook authentic Northern Italian food.
As a relative newbie in the world of food journalism, I probably have no place writing about this icon, and others are far better suited to singing her praised.
But I had a single, brief, but very important encounter with Ms. Hazan that I cherish.
This past May, I wrote an article about loquats for Zester Daily. I love loquats and am always trying to convince people how delicious they are, often with little success. The loquat piece got a surprising amount of comments, and among them – several steps down – was a magnificently cranky response that chided one of the other commenters for calling loquats “insipid.” Then after declaring loquats “paradisiacal,” the writer spun on me for complaining that I didn’t know what to do with my backyard fresh fruit.
“What we would have given in northern Italy to have found ripened loquats at the market,” she admonished. “Why should anyone expect any experience more enjoyable than just eating them, peeled of course in most cases, figs, peaches, and pears, and loquats included.”
The author of this opinionated rebuke signed herself Marcella Hazan.
That Marcella Hazan.
Well, that put me in my place. There’s no doubt that her response to my article was cranky. But I love cranky. To me, an occasional burst of crankiness is nothing more than a sign of passion. There are times when things MUST be done a certain way—the right way. Whether I agree or disagree, I respect a person who takes a stand. Marcella Hazan knew how things should be done and she was happy to tell us all in no uncertain terms.
What I also loved about her response was that it was a comment on another comment! Marcella Hazan, award-winning, internationally acclaimed food writer, was still in the trenches — reading not only articles but blogs and their comments, and calling out those who were clearly wrong – an 89-year-old street-fighter of food journalism who had no qualms about starting a flame war when it was called for.
I was delighted. And I still am. To discover that Marcella Hazan had read my article was very special. To have her berate me for my opinions was even better – particularly since Ms. Hazan’s opinions came from hard-won experience. And though our interaction was brief, I mourn the fact that it will be no more.
And it reminds me that this matters. Food writing has become a conversation, thanks to the internet and publications like Zester Daily. It’s an international conversation that stretches across the world and across cultures. It’s a conversation that includes everyone from newbie food writers like myself to iconic figures like Marcella, who literally changed the way America eats. I have loved food and food writing all my life, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this greater world. Marcella welcomed me as an equal. An equal who was wrong. But an equal.