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Elizabeth Schneider

Food Arts Staff - December 2001

Food Arts presents the December 2001 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Elizabeth Schneider, unrivaled produce troubadour, encyclopedic epicure, and central guiding spirit—in terms of hoisting the flag of diversity in the garden, field, and kitchen—of America's open ended food revolution.

With this month's publication by William Morrow of Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini: The Essential Reference, a radiantly photographed 832 page encyclopedia-cum-recipe collection, Schneider, armed with a poet's lambent passion and scientist's steely insistence on incontrovertible facts, has delivered an instant classic.

Identified by Ad Age as "America's first vegetable rights activist," Schneider describes herself as a "scholarly snoop: writing about vegetables allows me to research in depth, to interview specialists in a wide variety of fields, to people-watch, and to eat—four of my favorite activities." Born in New York City, she graduated from N.Y.U. Phi Beta Kappa with honors in Russian and French. After short stints in children's books and foreign language texts, she turned her scholar's eye, love of words, and nuanced palate to food writing and recipe development, at first under her then married name Elizabeth Colchie. Dozens of periodicals and newspapers have published her work (including the James Beard awarded Produce Pro series in this one), from the New York Times and Vogue to The Produce News and Gourmet (so good sticky-fingered cookbook authors pinched a file-load of Schneider's recipes in landmark plagiarism scandals).

Schneider's earlier books include the virgin soil-ploughing Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide. "We've given literally hundreds of copies to customers," says custom farmer Lee Jones, co-owner of Ohio's celebrated Chefs' Garden. "The amount of information, the depth and detail are just amazing—history, seasonal guides, she gets it all. And she's fanatical about having things exactly right." Indeed, to such a degree that she's been known to strike terror in the hearts of desultory editors.

Five hermetic years in the writing ("I feel as if I've just been released from the root cellar"), her latest, most ambitious tome commences with six densely packed pages of grateful acknowledgements to an intricately woven network of experts, including hundreds of "Scientists and Scholars," "Produce Distributors and Growers," and "Chefs and Other Food Professionals." Food Arts' queries show her gratitude is returned in spades. Says globe-girdling chef/impresario Alain Ducasse: "Absolutely formidable! Such incredible richness of knowledge, truly prodigious!" Chicago-based chef restauranteur Jean Joho: "Fantastic! I call her whenever there's anything I don't know what no one else can answer. And a wonderful diner, you can see it in her eyes, a true gourmet!" Frieda Caplan, founder and CEO of Frieda's, acme of premium produce distributers: "The most incredible source, most importantly in terms of taste. She's our bible, leading us to the best varieties that she's found." And farmer Jones has already put his money where clients' mouths are: "I've ordered 500 copies in advance!"