Sally Schmitt’s posthumous publication Six California Kitchens proves you can write a powerful memoir one recipe at a time. Whether the book will become enough of a legacy to vault her into the position she deserves, praised alongside “inventors” of California cuisine—farm-to-table, local, seasonal—like Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Nancy Silverton, and Mark Peel, only time will tell. But it’s also telling that Schmitt and her husband of 64 years Don were the founders of the French Laundry in 1978, which they sold to now world-renowned food superstar Thomas Keller in 1994 so they could get out of what they already saw was a rapidly commercializing Napa Valley. And note Keller pens one of the two encomiastic forewords; the other is from the founder of the famed Mustards Grill, Cindy Pawlcyn, who also, alas, generally doesn’t receive the kudos she deserves.
So, yes, there is a not-so-secret feminist core to this book, as Schmitt argues against the sad sexist trope “women are cooks and men are chefs” one unfussy but brilliant plate at a time. (In 1952 she graduated from UC Davis with a degree in, of all things, home ec.) Schmitt is also very much a mother, too, that “stumbling block” that often derails a woman’s career. Her solution was simple—have the whole family work for you. Not surprisingly to this day the Apple Farm, the idyllic spot the Schmitts took to in Mendocino County, eventually growing 80 heirloom varieties of apples, making all sorts of take-home products from that fruit and more, and most importantly, teaching cooking classes, is managed and run by Sally’s daughter, Karen, and son-in-law Tim. And Don was there all along, going from an Air Force vet to a banker to a sommelier on-the-fly, especially thanks to all their Napa winemaking friends.
Care to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.