RICHARD OLNEY was an American painter, cook, food writer, editor and memoirist, who died on this date. He was best known for his books of French country cooking.
Olney was born in Marathon, Iowa. He lived in a house above the village of Solliès-Toucas in Provence, France, for most of his adult life, where he wrote many classic and influential cookbooks of French country cooking. He had first moved to France in 1951, to Paris, where he was close friends with (and painted many of) the American and English bohemian expatriate set, including James Baldwin, filmmaker Kenneth Anger, painter John Craxton, poet John Ashbery and composer Ned Rorem. Chef jeremiah Towers was a lover.
His deep knowledge of traditional classic French food and wine got him a job writing a column entitled Un Américain (gourmand) à Paris for the journal Cuisine et Vins de France beginning in 1962. After The French Menu Cookbook was published in English in 1970, his then-revolutionary approach of seasonal menus and close attention to wine pairings began to attract notice in Britain and America. By the time he wrote Simple French Food in 1974, he was one of the most important food writers of the era, with a huge impact on nouvelle and California cuisine.
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, and Kermit Lynch, the well-known Berkeley wine writer and retailer, were both disciples. He introduced Lynch to many French wine growers, including Lucien and Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Templer, who were then re-establishing the Bandol AOC as a vineyard area of the first rank. James Beard was an important American mentor, and Olney, in the midst of his career, taught a series of cooking classes in Beard’s West Village apartment. Despite this, Olney, in a memoir, presents a mixed picture of Beard’s character.
From 1977 to 1982, Olney edited the 28-volume Time-Life book series The Good Cook. By the time of his death, from heart failure, in addition to the Time-Life set he had written many of his own brilliant, idiosyncratic, poetic books about food and wine. His last book, Reflexions, a memoir, was published posthumously by Brick Tower Press. Olney died aged 72 in Sollies-Toucas, France.
The Observer Food Monthly panel of chefs, cooks, writers and restaurateurs elected The French Menu Cookbook as their favorite cookbook in early 2010, but were saddened that it was very difficult to find. Since then the book has been republished.