Food Arts presents the March 1992 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Maggie Waldron, marketing visionary.
Waldron is director of the Ketchum Food Center in San Francisco, the food promotion and recipe development arm of Ketchum Communications, an international public relations and advertising agency.
Advertising, packaging, promotion, product and recipe development all fall under Waldron's domain. A significant portion of her work has been on behalf of the farmer and commodities rather than brand-name foods. Her packaging ideas and ads for the California Raisin Advisory Board, the Potato Board and the Beef Industry Council gave these foods new images. She packaged raisins in snack packs and sprinkled them in cereals. She created a new, skinny image for the potato ("I'm not fattening!" shouted one of her spuds), and promoted lean beef. She popularized the Hawaiian papaya. And she has been credited with—or accused of, depending on your point of view—putting a kiwi on every plate.
Margaret Gehlert was born in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Her father was a hotelier, so she grew up in a series of small Western hotels, and then she graduated from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. "Like most people, I really didn't know what I was going to do," she recalls. "But I found out when I hit New York that nobody was hiring women to be chefs."
Her first job was styling food for McCall's magazine, where she worked under the late, legendary food editor Helen McCully. "She was my mentor. In those days, McCalls had a big format and was the first to do food as art. She introduced me to Jim Beard, Craig Claiborne and Jacques Pépin."
From McCall's, she went off to Europe, lived in Paris and Rome, studied art and cooking and married David Waldron, an architect with whom she had a daughter.
"Living in Europe was the greatest influence on me," she recalls. "They treat food with such reverence. When I got back to the United States I was surprised by how poorly produce was treated. I just wanted to help the farmers. That was my big mission."
Waldron produced food advertisements for television in New York before she divorced and moved to San Francisco, where she did food styling and recipe development out of her home kitchen. In 1973 Ketchum recruited her and built her a $300,000 test kitchen.
Under Waldron, Ketchum has become a leader in food promotion. "I came into the business with a strong art background as well as a strong food background. I had done television and publicity so I was pioneering and was able to establish standards of excellence," she says.
Today Waldron is remarried to industrial designer Dean Tepper, with whom she lives on a houseboat in Sausalito. "I also lived on a houseboat on the Siene in Paris. I see myself as an overaged hippy," says Waldron, 64. "I started out that way, and I'll end up that way. I was a gypsy, traveling, living in Europe, living in Mexico. During the hippy era I was raising my child by myself after my romantic architect moved to Alaska. I'm offbeat. That's unusual for the corporate world."
Offbeat might also describe her latest project, a book and a television series called The Power of Food: Myth, Magic, Medicine, due out later this year. But Waldron has a hunch she's on to another major trend. "I've always felt food is the best medicine. Suddenly the whole country is interested."