The James Beard Foundation has chosen the acclaimed cookbook author, cooking teacher, and Alzheimer's activist Paula Wolfert as recipient of its 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Wolfert, a member of The Daily Meal Council, is the author of the influential cookbook Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, first published in 1973, which not only introduced the English-speaking world definitively to one of the Mediterranean's most varied and delicious cuisines, but also helped pioneer a new genre of cookbooks, presenting food in a cultural context as well as supplying authentic but cookable recipes.
She went on to write many more definitive cookbooks, most of them about Mediterranean food of one kind or another, including The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean and the prescient Mediterranean Grains and Greens, and returned to Morocco on assignment for Saveur in 1996. The resulting article won her an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the Beard Foundation, and led to what started as a revision of Couscous, but ended up being a completely new book, The Food of Morocco, which the Beard Awards named as Best International Cookbook in 2012. (She has received three other awards from the foundation, not counting this new one.)
After being diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease in late 2013, Wolfert gave up writing cookbooks but became an Alzheimer's activist, maintaining that denial is not a viable option, even as she tries to slow down the effects of the disease through diet and activity. A 2017 biography of Wolfert by Emily Kaiser Thelin, entitled Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life, covers the latest chapter in her saga, as well as her many contributions to the culinary world.
"I am so honored to receive the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award," Wolfert told the foundation. "This honor is especially meaningful to me because I knew Jim Beard well, and in fact, back in 1957, he gave me my first professional job in food. I've spent most of my adult life exploring the cuisines of the Mediterranean, striving to find the best versions of great dishes of the region, then passing on the recipes and stories of Mediterranean women who cooked them in my various books. Over the years the James Beard Foundation has honored many of them. I view this latest honor as the keystone in the arch of my career."
The honor will be officially bestowed on Wolfert at the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala, to be held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 7, 2018.