Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life
By Emily Kaiser Thelin
2017, Grand Central Life & Style, 978-1-53872-988-5, $35 hb.
Reviewed by Tom Verde on February 8, 2018
Paula Wolfert may be “the most influential cookbook author you’ve never heard of,” quips Thelin. Yet Wolfert introduced a generation of Western cooks to traditional Moroccan/North African cooking with recipes such as muhammara (tangy sweet pepper and nut spread) and labor-intensive but rewarding hand-rolled couscous (“one of life’s rare chances to pretend to be an oyster creating a pearl”). Her life story and determination to learn Moroccan and Arab cuisine at the feet of home cooks and local teachers are explored in this engaging cookbook-cum-memoir-cum-testimonial. It covers Wolfert’s years of apprenticeship, including globetrotting adventures in the 1960s with a husband who broke her heart but not her spirit, followed by professional success and the composition of “eight seminal cookbooks” and “countless articles on the traditional foods of the Mediterranean.” Sadly, Wolfert succumbed at age 68 in 2013 to dementia. That diagnosis threatened to erase a lifetime of learning, which this text seeks to preserve.