2018 Literary and Culinary Achievement Award
To my friend and mentor, Nancy Jenkins. Your books are precious and have long been a source of inspiration and education for so many people, including me. You instilled an insatiable appetite for Mediterranean food through recipes, story telling and research. As an authority, you have clearly brought Mediterranean cuisine to the forefront and into the mainstream. Congratulations
My friendship with Nancy goes back decades. Every day I find myself referring to some conversation, to her books and articles, or to some of the projects we’ve worked on for the knowledge she generously shares. No one has had a greater influence on my thinking about food, history, and culture than Nancy.
There are so many great things about Nancy Harmon Jenkins' books and writing. She is an absolute expert on all things Mediterranean diet-related (you can count on her being accurate); her love and care of cooking and agriculture is infectious (her passion shines through); and her recipes work (absolutely delicious!)
Nancy Jenkins is a woman of substance. Usually that substance is olive oil. But it could just as easily be Middle East politics, the Peloponnesian War, traditional Tuscan cooking, the Mediterranean Diet, or the food traditions of the coast of Maine. Any substantive conversation with Nancy—and she rarely engages in another type—moves from one topic to the next. She is informed. She is opinionated. She is willing to disagree.
If you’ve ever sped with Nancy in her tiny Fiat Punto down the endlessly windy road between Cortona and Teverina, where her Tuscan country home is hidden, you also know that she is a woman who takes risks. More people have made that drive than you would imagine, as she freely opens her home to those willing to make the trek, as long as they are also willing to learn about the culture and the foodways of the area. I know this because I have literally brought busloads of people there. And no matter that they usually have to walk the last kilometer or so down a rocky incline along which the buses could no longer maneuver, it was always worth the trip for the setting, the food, the conversation, and the hospitality.
There is an austerity to Nancy’s work, her research, writing and recipes. For some it belies her warmth and endless sense of humor in person. But if you read closely you see those qualities there in the prose, too. Perhaps the unshowiness (a made up word she would hate) is the Maine in her, though if some Tuscan has seeped in you could attribute it to that, too. In an age of selfies, food competitions and instagramable moments Nancy still thinks in books. (Okay, she also thinks in Facebook posts, but even those are substantive and well-crafted.) She writes about topics that interest her and she uses her enthusiam to make them interest us. That leaves us better informed and better cooks.
Just one word of friendly advice. No matter what you’e heard, don’t ever suggest to Nancy that you cannot sauté in extra virgin olive oil because its smoke point is too low. Or if you do, be prepared to learn a thing or two. In fact, you might enjoy it. Ask her to fry something to prove her point. You’ll enjoy that, too.
Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President
James Beard Foundation
It’s no coincidence that Nancy Harmon Jenkins is both a 13th-generation Coast of Mainer and has lived in six or seven countries. A certain Yankee conservatism — but not in politics! —explains her appreciation for great culinary cultures with roots lost in time. In her many books and countless articles, the cultures happen to be Mediterranean and above all Italian. And because she loves to be in the kitchen, it isn’t at all surprising that she has spent so much time with women cooking at home in their own kitchens, from Spain to Lebanon and Syria. Wherever they may live, she is at ease with these cooks, not least because in her heart she doesn’t feel them as foreign. Her writing has a particular clarity and grace. Then, when you meet her in person, you find her conversation is driven by high energy with, now and then, a Yankee moral edge. It may go without saying that Nancy is smart, informed, and articulate. As you get to know her further, you discover that she also has an enormous sense of fun. After we first met back in 1990, Nancy became one of my closest friends. We often talk by phone, and I never laugh so much on the phone as I do with Nancy. And you don’t get the full picture of her if you don’t know that she is the mother of two interesting children — I mean “interesting” as a particular compliment — one of whom is a chef of serious reputation (the other being a philosopher). Nancy’s most public legacy, however, is her role in promoting the healthful, delicious Mediterranean Diet: she was the first person to celebrate it in the form of a hugely influential cookbook. She has shaped her readers and other food writers through her appreciation for flavor, her concern to place individual cultures in the broad Mediterranean context, her understanding of ingredients, her concern for accuracy and origins, all carried by the pleasure she finds in food, starting by being there in the kitchen with the women who cook.
Edward Behr, Editor
The Art of Eating Magazine
I met Nancy a long time ago when the food studies movement was just beginning and she came to the Schlesinger Library to do a story for the New York Times. I had been developing a cookbook and food writing collection, and this caught the attention of bright journalists like Nancy who valued the significance of an academic library going in this direction. Nancy immediately struck me as smart, spectacularly knowledgeable about food, and to top it off, was so much fun to be with. Those earliest impressions were spot on and led to a long friendship which I have always cherished. I own all of Nancy’s cookbooks so I know full well what a great writer she is, but also at heart an educator. Just sit in on one of her olive oil tastings and you will see what I mean. I have had the pleasure of staying with her at her house in Tuscany, traveled with her throughout Sicily and loved seeing her in action. Her enviable command of the language and culture of Italy is a joy to witness, especially coming from this redhead from Maine. And, by the way, she knows everything about New England food and culture too. Nancy is never stuffy or pedantic when she talks about the places she loves but instead enlightens and amuses. She is about the best storyteller I know and a wonderful mimic, gifts always delivered with startling honesty and good fun.