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Dec 3, 2013 03:51 AM

Chef Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe, RIP

The San Francisco food world lit up social media late Monday night with word of the passing of Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe. The sad news is spreading from Terra Restaurant, Tablehopper, Daniel Patterson, Hoss Zare, State Bird Provisions, and others. I'm sure more complete coverage will be available soon.

Here's a piece from one year ago describing her illness,

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  1. What a terrible thing to read first thing this morning. Her book is one of my favorites, as are so many of her recipes. She was such an elegant writer, and her joie de vivre came through so clearly in her descriptions and instructions. Tremendous loss.

    1. I'm so sad to read this. As much as one can know someone from a wonderful restaurant and great cookbook, she seemed like a terrific person. What a loss.

      1. Her Zuni Cafe Cookbook is one of the best I have ever seen.

        1. On this sad day, let's start salting a chicken and make her most famous recipe.

          SF Chronicle confirmed her death and will have a complete obit online later today.

          A tribute from David Lebovitz,

          22 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I've still got leftover turkey a la Judy in the fridge.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              When I first read the news, I was struck that we've just been through Thanksgiving feasts and the time of year when her salting technique is top of mind. Popularized by Russ Parsons of the LA Times, he dubbed the dry-brined turkey achieved via this technique the "Judy-bird".

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                There's not much fresh meat that passes through my hands that doesn't get salted her way.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Agreed! Thanks to Judy my fish, shrimp, chicken, turkey and meat are all better for her salting technique.

                  And her cookbook is great! Like having an older sister who is there to help you learn not only what to do but why you do it that way!

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Here's the photo of my Judy Rodgers roast chicken, served for lunch yesterday. My first time attempting this recipe. This was a 2.8 lb Mary's air-chilled bird. I'd like to try it with a Chinese chicken for more flavor.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I can't bring myself to try that at home since I know it's never going to be as good as from a wood oven.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Talked to a friend yesterday who said he makes this on his Weber charcoal rotisserie. That might be the closest approximation to the results you'd get in a wood oven.

                    As a first-timer to this recipe, I was impressed by how simple and easy it was to turn out such a good result without fancy marinades or ingredients. I had lots of fresh thyme, sage and marjoram still on hand from Thanksgiving. Other than having to plan ahead, the hardest part was finding the right size chicken. I listened for the sizzle Rodgers said I should hear, and I watched for what she said I should see, and adjusted as she advised. It was a very good lesson.

                    The one error I made is that I took the chicken out of the refrigerator 1+ hours before cooking, as I typically do with any meat I'm planning to cook. The bird was done in 40 minutes, a a bit overdone at that point with the meat pulling easily off the bones though still succulent. Since Rodgers didn't say to let the bird warm up to room temperature before cooking, I'm sure that her longer cooking time estimate was based on a refrigerator cold chicken. And I think that leaving the chicken thoroughly chilled would have allowed longer time in the oven and an even browner and more crackly skin without overcooking it. I laughed when I thought about it, as I'm sure she would have specified taking it out of the fridge ahead of time if it was critical to the result.

                    Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      A friend forwarded this piece today, "Pay Attention to the Process, or What Judy Rodgers Taught Me" by Josh Lewin that pulls this quote from the cookbook.
                      "Tasting, looking, smelling , and feeling as you cook is not difficult. Adjusting for what you taste, or don't taste, need not be intimidating."

                      Lewin talks about using the first 20 pages of the cookbook as an orientation for his new staff.

                      And it made me think of this article from 2005 about the people in the prep kitchen who Rodgers called her "secret weapon", crediting them for the quality and consistency at Zuni. This piece, "The Zen masters of Zuni are in for the long run" is about them, but in some ways it says so much about her.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks for linking to the Josh Lewin article. That really touched me.

                        1. re: goodeatsgal

                          Michael Ruhlman wrote an affectionate remembrance,

                          The Oregonian traced Rodgers influence on Portland restaurants.

                        2. re: Melanie Wong

                          oh thank you, just saw this. glad you enjoyed it, judy was a wonderful influence... her reach was far

                          --josh lewin

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      What do you mean by Chinese chicken?

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        We roasted a Judy Rodgers Zuni Chicken this evening. The skin was crisp, the meat was moist and the bread salad did yeoman work sopping up the juices. We washed it down with a California Pinot Noir. She'll be missed.

                        Photos should show a bird that had been salted/seasoned for two days and left alone in the coolerator, the roasted bird before carving, pieces parts resting gently on the bread salad and the final plate.

                        It's a simple meal that requires little in the way of technique. Rather, it's an easily followed set of instructions that can lead to an outstanding meal. You don't need a fancy oven to get within 90% of this meal's potential.

                        Give it a shot.

                        1. re: steve h.

                          Looks wonderful, have you made this recipe before?

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Many times.

                            It should be in every home cook's repertoire.

                            1. re: steve h.

                              I agree, it's outstanding. I've never been to the restaurant but it's darn good right out of my oven.

                              1. re: steve h.

                                For the past couple of years, I have been making Marcella Hazan's lemon roasted chicken and served it along with the Zuni Bread salad. It's a phenomenal combo. I think it needs another appearance in my kitchen before year's end as a fitting tribute to the recent loss of these two culinary greats.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        A trip to San Francisco was never complete until my wife and I had a meal at Zuni Cafe.


                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Just enjoyed the Roast Chicken and Bread Salad for Sunday dinner, and it was phenomenal. I love the combination of salty, sweet, savory, etc. -- the flavors are so satisfying -- and I was reminded of what a wonderful dish this is all over again.

                          2. Raising a glass of Zuni Cafe's Balsamic Bloody Mary in a salute to a brilliant chef. Such a huge loss.

                            2 Replies
                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Thank you for that link, Melanie. Actually, I prefer gin in a Bloody Mary so this makes it extra special for me.
                                May Chef Rodgers Rest In Peace.