Culinary ‘roll’ models Culinary ‘roll’ models


Leslie Shalabi is a HER Magazine contributor. Photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL


Leslie Shalabi is a HER Magazine contributor. Photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL


Leslie Shalabi is a HER Magazine contributor. Photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

Often our earliest culinary influence is our mother or grandmother, but that really wasn’t the case for me. Distance made a daily relationship with my grandparents impossible. And my mother — while she instilled in me her sense of humor, caring nature and organizational skills — isn’t an easy, natural cook. (That said, she pulled off what I now recognize as a herculean task of cooking dinner for our family every evening while I was growing up, while working full-time as a teacher.) My earliest culinary influence, as I’ve written about before, was Julia Child, via the PBS station which was one of only two stations that had clear reception at our rural home. I remember being completely enthralled watching her cook, laugh and enjoy herself. That was not something I had seen or experienced in my daily exposure to food and meal preparation, and I was very drawn to it. A more contemporary role model whom I’ve also written about is Alice Waters, proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berekley, Calif. She is widely recognized as the chef who first introduced the farm-to-table concept by actively seeking our local producers, getting to know them and their products and letting the season’s produce dictate her menu. But today, I wanted to talk a little bit about someone you have probably heard of but didn’t realize it. To me, she represents the ultimate role model of someone taking her joy of entertaining and using it to not only teach a generation (or two or three) or housewives that cooking can be fun but to also overcome great personal tragedy. Irma Rombauer was born in 1877 to German immigrant parents in St. Louis. In 1899, she married Edgar Rombauer, a lawyer, whose father was a judge in St. Louis. They had three children, two of whom lived into adulthood. As was fitting of women of her time and social standing, she spent the first 30 years of her marriage active in civil and cultural organizations. She took great pleasure in entertaining — everything from simple informal luncheons for her ladies groups to more formal dinners for her husband’s professional and political associates. People knew her for her sparkling, effervescent personality, and it served her well as a hostess. As a cook she was competent but nothing extraordinary. In February 1930, however, tragedy shattered her comfortable, upper middle class existence. Her husband had suffered from depression throughout his entire life. After suffering a severe bout during the winter of 1929-1930, he ended up committing suicide, leaving his wife emotionally and financially shattered. Irma Rombauer was 52 and had no job or traditionally marketable skills. Her son had left home, and her daughter was about to be married. She was going to be alone and without a source of income. Her solution was as bold as it was perplexing to those who knew her well: She was going to write a cookbook. And this, ironically, was how “The Joy of Cooking” came to be. In later life, her daughter, Marion, described just how unlikely this endeavor was for her mother to undertake. “Mother’s early housekeeping days … gave little evidence of culinary prowess. Indeed, it is an open secret that Mother, to the very end of her life, regarding social intercourse as more important than food. The dinner table, in our childhood, frequently suggested a lectern, rather than a buffet. What I remember better than the dishes it upheld — which I admit, constantly improved in quality — was the talk which went round it, talk which burst forth out of our richly multiple interests.” Irma Rombauer innately knew that connection, conversation and joy are easier to come by over a meal. And she wrote her tome (which has sold 18 million copies and remains in print), in the wake of a life-altering tragedy and imbued it with anecdotes, witticisms and conversations to impart joy to the housewives making her meals. Brilliant. Inspiring. Admirable. Role models, whether it is in the kitchen or out of it, are such an important part of our lives. They help us see the possibilities in ourselves and help us be courageous, whether that is to forge a new path or life or simply try a new recipe. Leslie Shalabi is the co-founder of Convivium Urban Farmstead, a Dubuque-based nonprofit organization based on the idea of creating community around food. A life-long lover of food and entertaining, she is dedicated to helping people find ways to connect through the universal languages of food and hospitality.

Often our earliest culinary influence is our mother or grandmother, but that really wasn’t the case for me. Distance made a daily relationship with my grandparents impossible. And my mother — while she instilled in me her sense of humor, caring nature and organizational skills — isn’t an easy, natural cook. (That said, she pulled off what I now recognize as a herculean task of cooking dinner for our family every evening while I was growing up, while working full-time as a teacher.)

My earliest culinary influence, as I’ve written about before, was Julia Child, via the PBS station which was one of only two stations that had clear reception at our rural home. I remember being completely enthralled watching her cook, laugh and enjoy herself. That was not something I had seen or experienced in my daily exposure to food and meal preparation, and I was very drawn to it.

A more contemporary role model whom I’ve also written about is Alice Waters, proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berekley, Calif. She is widely recognized as the chef who first introduced the farm-to-table concept by actively seeking our local producers, getting to know them and their products and letting the season’s produce dictate her menu.

But today, I wanted to talk a little bit about someone you have probably heard of but didn’t realize it. To me, she represents the ultimate role model of someone taking her joy of entertaining and using it to not only teach a generation (or two or three) or housewives that cooking can be fun but to also overcome great personal tragedy.

Irma Rombauer was born in 1877 to German immigrant parents in St. Louis. In 1899, she married Edgar Rombauer, a lawyer, whose father was a judge in St. Louis. They had three children, two of whom lived into adulthood.

As was fitting of women of her time and social standing, she spent the first 30 years of her marriage active in civil and cultural organizations. She took great pleasure in entertaining — everything from simple informal luncheons for her ladies groups to more formal dinners for her husband’s professional and political associates. People knew her for her sparkling, effervescent personality, and it served her well as a hostess. As a cook she was competent but nothing extraordinary.

In February 1930, however, tragedy shattered her comfortable, upper middle class existence. Her husband had suffered from depression throughout his entire life. After suffering a severe bout during the winter of 1929-1930, he ended up committing suicide, leaving his wife emotionally and financially shattered.

Irma Rombauer was 52 and had no job or traditionally marketable skills. Her son had left home, and her daughter was about to be married. She was going to be alone and without a source of income.

Her solution was as bold as it was perplexing to those who knew her well: She was going to write a cookbook. And this, ironically, was how “The Joy of Cooking” came to be.

In later life, her daughter, Marion, described just how unlikely this endeavor was for her mother to undertake.

“Mother’s early housekeeping days … gave little evidence of culinary prowess. Indeed, it is an open secret that Mother, to the very end of her life, regarding social intercourse as more important than food. The dinner table, in our childhood, frequently suggested a lectern, rather than a buffet. What I remember better than the dishes it upheld — which I admit, constantly improved in quality — was the talk which went round it, talk which burst forth out of our richly multiple interests.”

Irma Rombauer innately knew that connection, conversation and joy are easier to come by over a meal. And she wrote her tome (which has sold 18 million copies and remains in print), in the wake of a life-altering tragedy and imbued it with anecdotes, witticisms and conversations to impart joy to the housewives making her meals.

Brilliant. Inspiring. Admirable.

Role models, whether it is in the kitchen or out of it, are such an important part of our lives. They help us see the possibilities in ourselves and help us be courageous, whether that is to forge a new path or life or simply try a new recipe.

Leslie Shalabi is the co-founder of Convivium Urban Farmstead, a Dubuque-based nonprofit organization based on the idea of creating community around food. A life-long lover of food and entertaining, she is dedicated to helping people find ways to connect through the universal languages of food and hospitality.

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