Marcella & Victor Hazan
Food Arts presents its October 1992 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Marcella and Victor Hazan, pioneers in introducing Americans to Italian food and Italian wines—as they’re served and consumed in Italy.
The Hazans began their work in the dark ages when pasta was still called spaghetti, tortellini were unknown, fennel was “ethnic” and grated Parmesan came principally in cans or jars. They coaxed Americans beyond red sauce and helped to lay the groundwork for the explosion of pasta parlors on every corner.
Marcella Hazan, 68, started teaching Italian cooking in 1969 at the insistence of six fellow students attending a Chinese cooking class with Madame Chu in New York City. “What do you eat at home?” they asked Marcella and, upon hearing her answer, coerced her into cooking lessons that, due to popular demand, lasted nine months.
“But I don’t write in English,” she squirmed when an editor asked her to write a cookbook. When pressed, she enlisted the help of her husband and promised to complete the manuscript in two months. And thus was born The Classic Italian Cookbook, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1973, currently in its 21st printing. They presented readers with the basic philosophy and principles of Italian cuisine. Hand-rolled pasta, risotto, polenta, pesto, squid, yellow peppers, zucchini flowers, gelato and real Italian coffee were all introduced; it has been suggested that Marcella may have unwittingly ignited the American craze for pasta salads with her cold pasta dish (although many still remember German deli macaroni in mayonnaise). And who’s to say how much responsibility she bears for runaway fads such as pesto and gelato?
More Classic Italian Cooking and Marcella’s Italian Kitchen followed, and Marcella Hazan became a household name as she rode the crest of adulation bestowed on cookbook authors in the ‘70s. She junketed around the country making guest appearances on television, doing promotional cooking demos at department stores and gourmet shops and signing books.
Victor’s Italian Wine (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982) summarized the wines of Italy with the same clarity. And now the Hazans’ newly published Essentials (Alfred A. Knopf, November 1992) totally reworks past classics and adds many new recipes, providing indispensable reading for anyone who cooks Italian. The books have sold over a million copies and have been instrumental in making Italian cuisine as American as, well … pizza. Today toddlers regard pasta as a basic food group. Tomato and mozzarella salad has usurped iceberg lettuce. And every amateur chef can stir up a creamy risotto.
In over 20 years, Marcella has taught students from the entire English-speaking world. “Marcella Hazan has made a large contribution to a better understanding of Italian cuisine with the American home cook just as Julia Child did for French cooking,” says New York City restaurateur Tony May. “Now when the public goes to Italian restaurants, it understands the food a lot better.” Marcella lent her own hand to the restaurant business when she consulted for Veni Vidi Vici in Atlanta, helping to make it red hot when it opened in 1990. (Her son, Guiliano Hazan, assisted the executive chef there and left to become executive chef at La Perlina, an Italian restaurant opened in Portland, Oregon, shortly after the first of the year.)
Countless food professionals and devoted amateurs have studied with Marcella, including Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, James Beard, Danny Kaye, Burt Lancaster and Vincent Price. Currently the Hazans teach in Venice, where six students market with Victor at the Rialto, cook with Marcella in her home kitchen, dine on the Hazans’ rooftop terrace and in fine Venetian restaurants. Victor teaches the basics of Italian wine in sensible language, pairing Marcella’s cooking with wines from his well-stocked cellar.
“Italian cooking is simple in flavor,” Marcella explains, “but for the professional practitioner, the most difficult to produce. There is ample space for improvisation, but none for showing off.”
Devoted fans are already wondering if there are any more books on the horizon. "Marcella always says she'll never do another book," an admiring colleague says, "but then she always does."