August 18, 2016
Almost thirty years ago, the remarkable MFK Fisher turned eighty. A restaurant in Lafayette, California threw a party – menu above – and food people came from all over the country to fete the writer.
From the piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times. (You can read the entire article here….)
“Are you still writing restaurant reviews?” she asks as I walk in the door. And I suddenly recall something she said to me 10 years ago. After a long talk, she turned to me and said, “You can’t continue to be a restaurant critic, you know, unless you’re the ambitious kind of person who is willing to walk on your grandmother’s grave.”
At the party Craig Claiborne toasts her by saying she’s “a national treasure.” Wine-maker Robert Mondavi’s toast: “You’ve raised the image of food and wine in this country.”
Mary Frances sits there with a slightly bemused expression on her face; when all the toasts are over, she responds with a dry “very nice.”
“Promise me never to be 80,” she tells me during dinner, “it doesn’t feel good.” Still, her sense of humor and forthright manner remain unimpaired. When one speaker asks the assembled guests, “Did you know that she was a gag writer in Hollywood?” Fisher leans over to whisper, “Yes, for Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. That job didn’t last very long.”
Hollywood’s loss was the food world’s gain; Fisher left gags to write “The Gastronomical Me,” a book about love and food and dignity. It is a book that makes you wish you could have been alive and well and eating in France in the ’30s, but even more, a book that makes you wonder how sensibly you are living in the ’80s. I once asked Fisher what she ate when she was alone and she replied, “Good stuff. You just can’t slug out a TV dinner, you know. One has to do it with a certain amount of pizazz.”
Asked why she agreed to leave her ranch to come to this particular dinner, she mumbles something about friends coming from all over to celebrate. But one suspects that there is a degree of bravado in the gesture; ensconced in a wheelchair, Fisher surveys the assembled guests with satisfaction, and when she leaves, she gives a jaunty wave of the cane.
She seems pleased to be able to demonstrate that she is alive and well and getting around.
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