Barbara Kuck

Meryle Evans / February 28th, 2013

Food Arts presents the December 2003 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Barbara Kuck, for making gastronomic history live at the internationally renowned Culinary Archives and Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. For 18 years at her father's legendary Chicago restaurant, The Bakery, Kuck and chef/owner Louis Szathmáry were a formidable cooking, traveling, and collecting team, sharing insatiable enthusiasm for exploring our culinary roots and accumulating hundreds of thousands of rare cookbooks, menus, illustrations, and artifacts to document five millennia o food history.

When Chef Louis closed the restaurant and retired in1989, he donated the collection to Johnson & Wales. Kuck (pronounced cook) cames aboard as director, dedicated to preserving the legacy of the foodservice and hospitality industries. A demon organizer and relentless sleuth, constantly expanding the archive's holdings, she has persuaded dozens of prominent chefs, food writers, culinary organizations, and collectors to donate. Former White House pastry chef Heinz H. Bender deposited invaluable menus that reveal presidential tastes; material from The Greenbrier resort's former executive chef Hermann G. Rusch is currently being cataloged.

Kuck has transformed a huge warehouse into a museum and library that includes a walk-through history of the diner featuring a fully restored specimen, a retrospective of the work of noted restaurant designer Morris Nathansn, and a vast array of antique kitchen equipment. Gotham's restaurant scene, based on Michael and Ariane Batterberry's restaurant history On the Town in New York, will be the subject of the next major exhibition, opening in spring 2004.

With the help of 12 international student assistants, Kuck provides an astonishing amount of research for movie and TV productions, scholars and students, magazine editors, and cookbook publishers. Recent projects include re-creating an 1890s Mardi Gras sweets table for Eddie Murphy's movie Haunted House and working with the BBC on a history of the American Hamburger.

Since she made her first cookies at the age of five (inedible because she didn't know T from t). food has been Kuck's passion. Her mother's Southern family farmed, owned restaurants, and loved to cook. As an apprentice at The Bakery, she recalls, "the first week I worked one shift, and from then on a double shift. I was the first woman to cook on the line, and at busy times the only waitress. I handled all of the catering, the correspondence, the wine buying, and staff training." She traveled with Chef Louis on book tours and when he spoke at universities, always on the lookout for additions to his eclectic collection. "I was part of the process, so I understood where there were voids," Kook says. Many of these she filled with great delight before Chef Louis died, in 1996.

Now Kuck whirls around the world lecturing and advising, always proselytizing for the preservation of today's culinary treasures for future historians and scholars.