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Sheila Lukins

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


Sheila Lukins, co-founder of The Silver Palate and author or co-author of assorted Silver Palate cookbooks with Julee Rosso, died on Sunday. I remember the store in its early days, when it was just a neighborhood food store in what happened to be my grandmother’s neighborhood.

Lukins, as the NYT obituary explains, entered the food business as a caterer working out of her apartment while raising two small daughters. The apartment was in The Dakota, the famed Manhattan apartment building on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. My grandmother lived in the Majestic, a famed apartment building in its own right that is on the southwest corner of the intersection, across the street from the Dakota. I spent a lot of time in the Majestic, from early childhood through the 1980s.

Central Park West is what 8th Avenue turns into as it runs north through Columbus Circle, past 59th Street, and becomes the western border of Central Park (hence its name). It is lined with apartments, but not stores or restaurants. Columbus Avenue, which is what 9th Avenue turns into north of 59th Street, runs parallel to Central Park West. Historically, Columbus has been the commercial street with the stores and restaurants serving the needs of residents in the area. Of course, it has gone upscale over the last thirty or thirty-five years, squeezing out the small grocers and drugstores that I’d go to with my grandmother in my childhood. The stretch from Lincoln Center in the lower 60s to the American Museum of Natural History at 77th came to be filled with excellent restaurants.

And with The Silver Palate. Lukins and Rosso opened it in 1977 on Columbus and 73rd. Turning again to the NYT obit, we learn, “The partners spotted a niche that had been created by the emergence of working women, who were interested in good food but lacked the time to produce it. ‘In my neighborhood, the supermarkets closed at 5, because women were home during the day — and if they weren’t, their maids were,’ Ms. Rosso said. From a 156-square-foot shop and kitchen at Columbus Avenue and 73rd Street, the women and their recipes — Mediterranean chicken salad, curried butternut squash soup, spicy carrot cake — intrigued, and then guided, the increasingly adventurous palates of New Yorkers.”

That’s the Silver Palate I remember. The cookbooks and national reputation would follow, but initially it occupied the smallest of spaces — you could barely squeeze in — where my mother and I would marvel at the offerings, make our selections, and take them back to grandma’s for lunch.


One more thing. I can’t resist noting an unfelicity in the NYT obit I’ve quoted from. Early on, we learn that Lukins “graduated from New York University in 1970, moved to London with her husband, Richard Lukins, from whom she was divorced, and took classes at the Cordon Bleu cooking school.” I assume Julia Moskin is trying to tell us that Richard Lukins was her husband in 1970, when they went to London, but was no longer her husband at the time of her death. Sometimes a sentence just can’t carry all that weight.

Categories: Family, Food
  1. gailirving
    September 4, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    The Silver Patate is one of the first books that opened my life to food. I sat in bed at night at read recipes instead of novels. Many of our family celebration dinners came from Sheila’s books. I have to admit, sometimes her later recipes did not work, but I will always be grateful to her for introducing me to great food.

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