#RespectYourElders: Have you heard of famous chef and cookbook author Paula Wolfert? Wolfert (born 1938) is featured in a new biography: “Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life.” She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, and she continues to find joy in cooking.
A native of Brooklyn, Wolfert graduated from Columbia University in 1959 with a degree in English. Originally, she wasn’t interested in the culinary world. But after taking cooking lessons from chef Dione Lucas, Wolfert was hooked.
She has since spent her life developing recipes and cookbooks and traveling the world, mostly in the Mediterranean. Her cookbooks reflect the time she spent there, with many of her recipes drawing on French, Turkish and Moroccan influences.
Wolfert has received high praise from food critics, and was even deemed the “queen of Mediterranean cookery” in the Los Angeles Times. She has received numerous awards over the years, from the French Tastemaster’s Award in 1983 for her book “The Cooking of Southwest France,” to the prestigious IACP Culinary Classics Book Award in 2013 for her first book, “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.”
After being diagnosed with an early stage of Alzheimer’s in 2013, Wolfert devoted herself to Alzheimer’s advocacy. She has also continued to find joy in cooking. In developing the biography “Unforgettable,” author Emily Kaiser Thelin worked side-by-side with Wolfert in the kitchen. She said it was “incredible” to see that while Wolfert said she “didn’t remember anything” about certain dishes, her hands clearly showed familiarity in preparing each dish.
Listen to the author of “Unforgettable” speak to NPR about Wolfert’s impact on preserving the art of Mediterranean cuisine. And, learn some new Mediterranean recipes while you’re at it.