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NEWS : Philip Brown: An Appreciation and Complaint

April 06, 1995|SYLVIA THOMPSON

Gentleman, scholar, raconteur, writer, teacher, cook and friend par excellence, Philip Brown, who died at his Pasadena home March 28, was my mentor for 30 years, and I adored him.

His selflessness drove me crazy. His wife, Helen Evans Brown, was the first to celebrate and chronicle the California table. Filled with passion and panache, she quickly became Mrs. West Coast Cookery. In 1940, Philip began his 24-year devotion to researching, consulting, typing and editing her work, as well as putting finishing touches to recipes.

His name appears as co-author on four of Helen Brown's 14 books, but had their work been for the motion picture industry, under strict Writer's Guild rules he might have had co-author credit for more. You get a sense of Philip's modesty in his foreword and notes to the recent edition of his wife's classic, "Helen Brown's West Coast Cook Book" (Knopf: 1991).

Philip was a graceful writer in his own right. After Helen's death in 1964, he continued writing newsletters in her stead for the Jurgensen's grocery chain. A page of bon vivant notes and elegant recipes made delectable reading.

Philip also taught cooking, beguiling students with his inexhaustible know-how, culinary history and jokes. Philip and his cherished friend James Beard often traveled and taught together, Jim playing straight man to Philip's quips. In time, he retired, content to read voluminously, sustain friends and potter about the kitchen and garden with Helen's friend, later his second wife, Lois.

Isn't it amazing the way some of us know better how to live another person's life? "Please, Philip," I'd beg, "write your book on wines. I need to know what you know!" Wines had replaced meats in my pleas, and in time wines were replaced with frantic phumpherings. You can sample Philip's sensibilities about meat in his segment in "The Great Cooks Cookbook" (Ferguson/Doubleday: 1974).

"Stop pestering me, darling," he'd say, his blue eyes twinkling, his cherubic cheeks flushing. I would, for awhile.

The choices were Philip's. But I wanted his wine book. His meat book. His everything. Had I his grace, I wouldn't complain.

It was Philip's habit to make those around him shine. It was his nature, then, to step outside their circle of light. He asked little for himself. Now, as it has ever been, it remains to his friends to throw the light back upon this rare, this enchanting man.

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