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The Cleft Palate : Cookbooks: For 15 years, the owners of the Silver Palate were wildly successful in everything they undertook. Their gourmet takeout shop was a hit. Their products are sold in supermarkets. Their cookbooks are best-sellers. Now they're going their separate ways.

April 15, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

In 1977, two young women--Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins--opened a takeout food shop on New York's Columbus Avenue. It was supposed to be called Seaboard Deluxe, which is coffee-shop slang for an order to go, but then food journalist Florence Fabricant suggested another name, which stuck: The Silver Palate.

The Silver Palate became a success literally almost overnight and soon grew into a culinary mini-empire. Rosso and Lukins developed a thriving catering operation and a line of packaged food products sold nationwide, even a series of spin-off shops in Japan.

But what made the Silver Palate a household name was "The Silver Palate Cookbook" (1982) and its successors, "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" (1985) and the "The New Basics Cookbook" (1989), all published by Workman.

The idea was simple: "We were good home cooks with peasant tastes," Rosso says. "Our palates were developing along with America's, but maybe just a few steps ahead--and as soon as we learned something, we wrote about it."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 22, 1993 Home Edition Food Part H Page 29 Column 1 Food Desk 6 inches; 205 words Type of Material: Correction; Recipe
Tarnished Silver--In last week's article about the former partners of the Silver Palate and their new cookbooks, there were mistakes in Julee Rosso's Tiramisu Cake recipe, which was taken from her new book, "Great Good Food." The main problem is that the recipe requires a large homemade angel food cake; if you use a store-bought 9-ounce cake, all other ingredients must be cut in half. We have also removed the skim milk from Rosso's recipe, as we found it made the filling too thin. The corrected recipe follows.
TIRAMISU CAKE 1 homemade 10-inch angel food cake 1 cup cold espresso 3/4 cup amaretto liqueur 1 1/2 cups nonfat ricotta cheese 1 cup mascarpone cheese 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, toasted Cut angel food cake into 3 equal layers.
In small bowl, combine espresso and 1/2 cup amaretto. Spoon 1/3 liquid mixture evenly over each layer of cake.
Whisk together another 1/4 cup amaretto, 1 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup mascarpone and 1/4 cup powdered sugar in medium bowl. Place 1 layer of cake on plate and spread 1/2 mascarpone mixture on top. Add second layer and spread remaining 1/2 mascarpone mixture on top. Place remaining layer on top.
Whisk together remaining 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup mascarpone and 1 tablespoon powdered sugar until well blended. Cover entire cake with mixture. Grate chocolate on top of cake. Press almonds into side of cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 24 servings.

It worked. The books' chatty tone and accessible, delicious recipes were just what a food-addled America wanted. Together, the three volumes have sold more than 4.5 million copies.

The good times didn't last forever, though. "It got to the point," Lukins says, "where we were spending more time in meetings and with lawyers than doing what we really loved to do, which was making food." Bored and crowded out of the kitchen by their success, the two used to sneak off to the movies in the afternoon. Finally, in 1988, they sold the original shop and all the related enterprises.

"The New Basics Cookbook" came out the following year, and the women continued collaborating as co-food editors for Parade, the national Sunday magazine, for which they also wrote a weekly column. Since January of this year, though, Lukins has been the only food editor of the publication, and the two--as both will tell you candidly--no longer work together. (Neither will elaborate on the reason for the break.)

Silver Palate fans needn't despair, though. Lukins and Rosso both have new books in the works. Rosso's is just out from Random House. Called "Great Good Food: Luscious Lower-Fat Cooking," it will remind readers, in both design and tone, of the previous volumes (Christa Wise's drawings are so reminiscent of those Lukins did for the Silver Palate books as to suggest an homage). Still, it has a flavor very much its own. As the subtitle suggests, every recipe, from power breakfasts to bistro fare to Chinese banquet dishes, is low in fat, cholesterol and other potentially deleterious dietary elements.

"It made sense for me to do a book like this," says Rosso, who has moved back to her native Michigan, where she and her husband run the 11-room Wickwood Country Inn in the village of Saugatuck. "My mom had a stroke, my husband has high blood pressure, and I've always been on the chubby side myself, so I thought that if I could change the way I cooked but still make food taste good, why not do it?" Still, she emphasizes, "This is a joyful book, not one that feels medicinal or stingy. Food can be fun even if it has less fat and fewer calories."

Lukins, meanwhile, is working in quite another direction--a lot of other directions, actually. Her next project is the "The American World Cookbook" (Workman), due out in 1994. The idea is to reinterpret highlights of the world's cuisines--Lukins visited some 35 countries for material--through an (accessible) American sensibility. "What I'm doing," she says, "is eating a lot of food, going to markets, talking to cooks, assimilating--and then coming back to New York and creating my own recipes. It isn't supposed to be 'authentic.' It's my versions of flavors I love. I've got everything from a Thai club sandwich to huevos rancheros my way."

The "The American World Cookbook" has a health angle, too--but a personal one: Six months into the project, Lukins suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. "I was real sick," she says. "I couldn't walk, I couldn't use my arms for awhile. But I somehow managed to hobble into the kitchen and teach myself to cook again--and three months after it happened, I was traveling again. Having this book to do really pulled me through."

And, having pulled through, Lukins knows very well what she wants to do in the future. "I love being involved with food," she says, "and I love cooking best of all. That's really what I want to keep on doing." Rosso would no doubt echo that sentiment.

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