The word foodie was coined in 1980 by New York Times critic Gael Greene. It described a sensibility that was just taking hold among youngish, well-to-do New Yorkers who had developed an intense new relationship with food and restaurants, along with a taste for luxe ingredients—crème fraiche, sun-dried tomatoes, black walnuts—on an everyday basis.
Upper-middle class New Yorkers had been putting together chic, European-inflected dinner parties since the early 1960s. By the late 1970s, this next generation of culinary connoisseurs was eager for sophisticated indulgence at breakfast and lunch, too—whether they had time to cook for themselves, or not.
And increasingly, they did not. Upper-middle-class New York women weren’t staying at home the way they had in the 1960s. Career success was not only becoming a more realistic aspiration for some women; it had cachet. Around the same time Greene named the foodie trend, another cutesy appellation was being applied to the luxury-loving high-achievers, male and female, of the 1980s: yuppie. And as a new generation of working women negotiated their sole responsibility for getting dinner on the table, hardworking yuppie couples were hungry for an upscale way—a way that respected the emerging foodie sensibility—to get dinner on the table.
The Silver Palate, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was one of a trio of landmark prepared-food meccas—along with Dean & DeLuca downtown and E.A.T. on the Upper East Side—that emerged at the intersection of foodie passion, yuppie ambition, and the taste for sophisticated luxury that defined both.
In contrast to the infamously combative male proprietors of their counterparts down- and across town, The Silver Palate was created and owned by two women—Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. Successful female entrepreneurs, Lukins and Rosso had an inside line on what successful working women wanted on their tables.
Lukins’ and Rosso’s foodie instincts were spot-on when it came to satisfying their UWS clientele, but their aesthetic transcended the boundaries of Manhattan to go national with the publication of The Silver Palate Cookbook in 1982. Based on the distinctive style of their takeout food, the rich, seductive recipes, replete with upscale ingredients, were massively successful with home cooks nationwide, who wanted to entertain (or imagine entertaining) in a new style that combined sophisticated and luxurious ingredients with accessible technique and taste.
The book’s design, with whimsical line drawings borrowed from children’s books and the counterculture-cookbook tradition, enhanced the girlishly festive feel of Lukins’ lush recipes and differentiated the Silver Palate food aesthetic as more playful, more modern, than the serious, simple, purist tradition that held sway among the food elite of midcentury New York. In an era of great ambivalence about domesticity, it offered an appealingly redesigned culture of the kitchen, one with the potential to lure former takeout customers back to the stove.
The Silver Palate aesthetic also reconciled the emerging taste for everyday luxury and expense with at least the appearance of confident post-1960s informality. A home cook with minimal training, Lukins struck the perfect middle ground between luxe and homespun, setting new standards for what you could expect from everyday foods like sandwiches, cookies, or chicken casseroles. The Silver Palate’s recipes retain a strong 1970s-style youthful yumminess—lots of butter, outsized chocolate chip cookies, meat with fruit, flavored vinegars. Maybe because of this, or perhaps because the self-taught Lukins produced food that was aspirational but manageable, the Silver Palate way of cooking translated, like that other Upper-West Side hit, Seinfeld, far beyond the borders of Manhattan.
Silver Palate’s Black Russian Bread
Rosso, Julee and Lukins, Sheila with Michael McLaughlin. The Silver Palate Cookbook. New York, Workman, 1982
1 ½ cups lukewarm water (105° to 115°.)
½ cup molasses
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups medium rye flour
1 ½ tablespoons unsweetened powdered cocoa
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups bread flour or unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup raisins
3 to 4 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon cold water
1 egg white
- Stir together the lukewarm water and molasses in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir to dissolve. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until slightly foamy.
- Stir in instant coffee, salt and rye flour. Sprinkle in the cocoa and stir well to combine. Add whole-wheat flour and 1 cup of the bread flour, or enough to make a sticky dough.
- Turn the bread out onto a lightly floured work surface and let it rest. Wash and dry the bowl.
- Sprinkle additional flour over the dough and begin to knead. Continue until most or all of the remaining bread flour is incorporated and you have a smooth elastic ball. (Breads with rye flour will always be slightly sticky.)
- Pour the vegetable oil into the mixing bowl, turn the ball of dough to coat well, cover the bowl with a towel, and set aside to rise until dough is tripled in bulk, 3 to 4 hours.
- Lightly flour the work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flatten it into a large rectangle and sprinkle with the raisins. Roll up the dough and knead it to distribute the raisins evenly, for about 5 minutes. Return dough to the bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled.
- Sprinkle a large baking sheet with 3 to 4 tablespoons cornmeal. Turn the dough out, cut it into 3 pieces, and shape each piece into a small round loaf. Set loaves on the baking sheet, leaving as much room as possible between them, cover, and let rise until doubled.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Beat egg white together with 1 tablespoon cold water in a small bowl. When the loaves have risen sufficiently, brush the tops with the egg-white mixture.
- Bake loaves on the middle rack of the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are dark brown and sound hollow when bottoms are rapped. Cool completely on racks before cutting or wrapping.