Sheila Lukins: Cookery writer who with her partner Julee Rosso changed the palates of middle-class America

Sheila Lukins was the author, with Julee Rosso, of the phenomenally successful "Silver Palate" series of cookery books, selling in all more than 5.5m copies.

The pair also ran the Silver Palate food shop on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where they introduced Americans to the bold, strong flavours of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. When Julia Child retired as food editor and columnist for Parade – a Sunday supplement enclosed with 400 American newspapers with a readership of 83m – Lukins succeeded her, and continued in the role for 32 years.

Lukins and Rosso contributed a good deal to the food revolution that has so changed American middle-class eating habits. With their best-selling books they influenced the trend that began in the late 1970s for educated women (and later, men as well) to treat cooking as a hobby. And their shop caught the moment when there emerged a large number of working women who relished good food but did not have the time to produce it themselves.

Sheila Gail Block was born in Philadelphia in 1942, and spent her childhood in Connecticut. She went to art school and graduated from New York University in 1970 with an honours degree in Art Education. She married Richard Lukins, a security-systems expert, and they moved to London, where she worked in graphic design and attended the Cordon Bleu school of cookery. She then pursued her culinary education in France, gaining experience with Michelin-starred chefs in Bordeaux.

The family, now with two little girls, returned to New York in 1977. In an interview with Laura Lehrman, Lukins recalled: "My career in food started when I was married and had young children at home, but I wanted to be working. I entertained all the time and cooked every night. A bachelor who lived in my building was in a desperate situation. He was going to be having six people for dinner and asked for my help in preparing the meal. I cooked the meal for him and delivered it with my dishes. My neighbor's dinner was a tremendous success and he returned my dishes all clean and paid me in cash."

Having discovered that she could make money doing what she liked best, she started The Other Woman Catering Company. She specialised in dishes with strong flavours and sophisticated pedigrees, such as Greek mezes, Moroccan b'stilla (a pigeon pie that she made with chicken, but retaining the slightly sweetened pastry), and Spanish gazpacho, eschewing the French dishes, coq au vin or duck à l'orange, that New York dinner guests tended to expect. "One of my clients was living with my soon-to-be-partner, Julee Rosso. Julee had had my food many times and loved it," said Lukins, and she suggested they jointly start a take-away food business.

"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 told the New York Times. This left a gap, as working women were not catered for. In their 156 sq ft shop and kitchen, modelled on a French traiteur, the women used their own their recipes for dishes such as chicken Marbella (with prunes, capers and olives), blackberry mousse (finished with then-fashionable kiwi fruit), curried butternut-squash soup and spicy carrot cake. They also sold relishes, such as courgette pickle and blueberry preserves, and used local produce whenever possible.

The Silver Palate proved very much to the taste of the Upper West Side until it was sold in 1988 (it stopped trading in 1993, though branded goods using the name are still sold). The Silver Palate Cookbook (written with Michael McLaughlin, 1979) was the first spin-off from the shop; it broke records by selling 250,000 copies in its first year and 2.5m copies in total, and was followed by The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook in 1984. The pair then published The New Basics Cookbook (1989) and Silver Palate Desserts (1995).

In the early 1990s Lukins and Russo had a well-publicised row – this was the time when I met Sheila (to write a profile of her for a British magazine) and she showed me her two large flats in the Dakota, the famous apartment building where she was still living following her divorce. She was circumspect about her differences with Rosso, but I found her feisty, direct, sympathetic and engaging, and felt we'd become friends. Soon after this, in December 1991, she suffered a near-fatal cerebral haemorrhage which paralysed most of her left side.

Though she never fully recovered, she continued her monthly column for Parade, and published further books: All Around the World Cookbook (1994) USA Cookbook (1997), and Celebrate! (2003). In 2007 she and Rosso joined forces once again to publish a 25th-anniversary edition of The New Basics Cookbook. Lukins was diagnosed with brain cancer three months before her death.

Sheila Gail Block, cookery writer and caterer: born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 18 November 1942; married Richard Lukins (marriage dissolved; two daughters); died New York 30 August 2009.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics rally to defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
John Cleese is promoting his new book
A-list actresses such as Deepika Padukone get paid a tenth of what their male counterparts make per film
The Black Friday Vines that will destroy your faith in humanity

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Robbie Rogers: US former Leeds United footballer, 25, announced he was gay in February 2013, shortly after he left Elland Road. Rogers 'retired' after writing on his blog: 'I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay.' Has since signed with Los Angeles Galaxy.
peopleUS footballer said he had hoped Michael Sam and Jason Collins coming out might have helped
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt

The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game