Obituary: Louis Szathmry

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The Independent Online
Not only was Louis Szathmry the "grandfather" of frozen prepared institutional foods in the United States, he also developed space foods for Nasa, and played a leading role in food processing and canning, as well as in industrial franchise design.

Born in Hungary in 1919, Szathmry obtained a PhD in Psychology from the University of Budapest. In 1951 he left Hamburg abroad the USS Hershey with 2,000 immigrants bound for New York, having previously worked variously as an actor, a journalist and a psychologist. Whilst waiting to leave for New York, he was employed in Salzburg by Hofrat Bauer, a brilliant restaurateur.

Szathmry's first job offer in the US came from a retreat home for semi- retired Jesuit priests on Manresa Island, Connecticut, where he was compelled to learn English speedily. From the beginning he became fascinated with frozen foods and began serious research in the subject. The name "Chef Louis" was bestowed upon him early on by those finding difficulty with his Hungarian surname.

When the Jesuits sold their island, Szathmry got a job with a company president in the food industry. He became well-known in the field of product development, particularly of frozen foods and ready-made meals. For three years from 1960 he served as product development manager of Armour Food Corporation.

Feeling the urge to demonstrate his culinary ideas in a restaurant of his own, in 1963 he became the chef-owner of the Bakery restaurant in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. The Bakery acquired world-wide renown. Writers, poets, painters and musicians such as Ribor Selby and Bela Bartk Jnr were frequent visitors to the "kitchen room" alongside the main rooms of the restaurant. The most popular dish on the menu was Szathmry's own Beef Wellington, and so it remained from within six months of opening until 1989, when he retired and sold the restaurant.

Throughout the Bakery years, Szathmry wrote as a food columnist and produced books including Sear's Gourmet Forum (1968), American Gastronomy (1974), and The Chef's Secret Cookbook (1975), The Chef's New Secret Cookbook (1975) and America Eats (1992); he also edited the 15-volume Cookery Americana (1973).

In 1988 Szathmry donated his private culinary arts collection, consisting of 200,000 artefacts then valued at $2m, to Johnson and Wales University of Providence, Rhode Island. Some 8,000 books from his culinary library were also donated to Johnson and Wales.

In the warren of rooms above the Bakery restaurant Szathmry's three non-culinary collections of books - one of Hungarian and one of Transylvanian literature, the third memorabilia of Liszt, Kodly and Bartk - were housed, and a full-time librarian was employed to look after them. This personal library of 45,000 books was donated to various US libraries: the Franz Liszt collection is housed in Boston University, the cookery books in the University of Iowa and the Hungarian collection in the University of Chicago.

At his death Szathmry was working on two books and was active on the editorial advisory board of Biblio magazine.

Louis Istvn Szathmry, restaurateur and writer: born Rakospalota, Hungary 2 June 1919; married 1960 Sada Tanino (one daughter); died Chicago, Illinois 4 October 1996.