Edna Lewis was a highly recognized chef during the 20th century. She is best-known for authoring three cookbooks about southern cuisine, The Edna Lewis Cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking in 1976. Lewis set out to show the world the variety of dishes and comfort associated with southern foods.
Lewis was born in Freetown in Orange County, Virginia and was the granddaughter of former slaves. She grew up watching her relatives cook and prepare various meals in the kitchen. She would later acquire their skills and few of her own.
At the age of 16, she left home to find work. She lived in Washington, D.C., before moving on to New York where she found work as a seamstress. It was reported that she made clothes for big names such as Marilyn Monroe. Lewis married Steve Kingston, and together they partnered with John Nicholson to open Café Nicholson, which was established in 1949. The restaurant was visited by several big-name celebrities, including Tennessee Williams and Gloria Vanderbilt.
Due to an injury, Lewis stopped cooking for a while; it was during this time that she turned some of her recipes into a cookbook. The Edna Lewis Cookbook was published in 1972. Her follow-up book, The Taste of Country Cooking, is considered to be a classic on Southern cooking. The acclaimed cookbook became an instant success, and has been described as “[possibly] the most entertaining regional cookbook in America.” Lewis has also been considered by some as “the South’s answer to Julia Child.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Lewis described her desire to pursue a career in culinary arts: “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.”
Throughout her career, Lewis received numerous accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.