Cary cookbook author and food writer Sandra Gutierrez is the grand prize winner of the Les Dames d’Escoffier International’s MFK Fisher Awards for Excellence in Culinary Writing, which were announced Tuesday.
LDEI, an educational and philanthropic all-woman organization of food, beverage and hospitality professionals, recognized the work of nine women writers who published analytical pieces, autobiographical explorations and culinary history during 2016. The award is named for the late Mary Frances Kennedy (MFK) Fisher, considered by many to be among America’s greatest food writers.
Gutierrez is a Guatemala native who has made a name for herself through her writing and role as a teacher of cuisines rooted in Latin America and American South. She is honored for a first-person reflection titled “A Voice from the Nuevo South,” which was featured in the October issue of Oxford American. The article also took the top prize in the internet category.
“I actually got the call on Friday, but I was sworn to secrecy,” Gutierrez said from her kitchen Tuesday. “I was floored. Speechless. Let me tell you, that doesn’t happen very often.”
Gutierrez, a founding member of the North Carolina chapter of LDEI, is the first Dame to win the grand prize since it was created in 1992. She wins a trip to the annual LDEI conference, to be held in California in October, and $1,000.
Another local connection came in the book category, where Cynthia Graubart of Atlanta took third place for “Chicken: A Savor the South Cookbook,” which was published by the University of North Carolina Press. The 74 entries were judged by magazine and newspaper food editors and book publisher who aren’t members of LDEI.
Gutierrez’s award comes at a time when she is receiving national attention for her works, which includes being recognized in a Smithsonian exhibit.
Her article reflects her life as a Latina who built a career writing about food and social issues in the American South. She credits former Cary News editor Jane Paige – who hired her in 1996 and encouraged her to write about her life and the diversity of Latin American cuisines – with setting her on a path that’s led to four cookbooks.
Her most recent, “Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America,” won a 2016 Gourmand International World Cookbook Award.
In April, Oxford American announced that she is among “the South’s most gifted and promising talents” who will be featured in a new online series called “The By and By.” One of her essays was published May 8. Other North Carolinians participating include Ronni Lundy of Burnsville, who took top honors at the James Beard Awards in May with “Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes,” and Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, who recently moved back to Raleigh with her baby daughter. Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies is part of the project, which marks the journal’s 25th anniversary.
Additionally, Gutierrez is part of a groundbreaking exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. “Gateways/Portales,” which opened in December and recently was extended through January, examines what it means for Latino migrants and immigrants to makes their home in one of four U.S. metro areas – including Raleigh-Durham. A display case in the exhibit includes some of Gutierrez’s cookware and a copy of her first cookbook, “The New Southern Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South,” published in 2011 by UNC Press.
“(Cookbook author) Nathalie Dupree told me my book was ahead of its time. She said it would take a few years for people to get it, and she was right,” says Gutierrez. “It’s hard to describe how it feels to walk through this beautiful, colorful exhibit, which has a great social message about what we as Latinos have contributed, and to see my work included. It’s surreal.”
Gutierrez will present an author talk and sign copies of the book at the museum on June 17.
In addition to her writing, Gutierrez also is an in-demand cooking instructor. However, to allow time to finish a series of writing assignments, and start a new book proposal, she’ll take a break from teaching after her June 22 Contemporary Picnic class at Southern Season.
“This has been an amazing year,” says Gutierrez, who has spent much of it traveling to present at conferences, lectures and cooking demonstrations. “It’s humbling to be recognized by a group like Les Dames, which is so supportive of women achieving their goals, for a story that is so deeply personal.”
Jill Warren Lucas is a Raleigh-based freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jwlucasnc.
▪ To learn more about Sandra Gutierrez and the exhibit at the Smithsonian, go to sandraskitchenstudio.com.
▪ She will teach a class at Southern Season June 22 at 6 p.m. called “The Contemporary Picnic.” Go to southernseason.com.