Judy Rodgers, the legendary owner and chef of Zuni Cafe, passed away yesterday at the age of 57. She had been ill for some time with what mentee Gayle Pirie described as "a rare cancer that slowly metastasized over a series of years," which ultimately led to debilitating symptoms and a life-threatening surgery. After Rodgers' passing spread through the Twittersphere, Inside Scoop confirmed the news with her friend and co-owner Gilbert Pilgram; the restaurant will be open today, for those who wish to drop by and express condolences.
Brought to the Bay Area as an art history undergraduate at Stanford, Rodgers became enamored with Chez Panisse after dining there, and began working with Alice Waters. After cooking in France and New York City, Rodgers was lured back to take over Zuni (which had previously been a Southwestern restaurant) in 1987. The restaurant became an iconic locus of California cuisine, and Rodgers' famous roast chicken with bread salad, roasted in the brick oven, an internationally renowned dish.
Rodgers and Zuni took home the James Beard Awards for Outstanding Restaurant in 2003 and Outstanding Chef in 2004. Rodgers was also known for her bestselling cookbook The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant. The book won the Beard Award for Cooking from a Professional Point of View as well as Cookbook of the Year in 2003; the same year, it should be noted, that Zuni Cafe won Outstanding Restaurant. The cookbook also won an IACP award that year.
Here is a video of Rodgers accepting her Outstanding Chef JBFA in 2004.
Video: Judy Rodgers Wins the 2004 JBFA for Outstanding Chef
Reactions from the food world on Twitter:
We have lost a great friend, chef and mentor. Judy Rodgers left us today, but she is cooking with all the other great chefs. #judyrodgers— Terra Restaurant (@LissaandHiro) December 3, 2013
I am so sad to hear that Judy Rodgers has passed. A wonderful chef and person. My first great meal in SF was Zuni in 1990. RIP, friend.— daniel patterson (@dcpatterson) December 3, 2013
It's a sad day! Judy Rodgers thank you for the inspiration. Amazing chef and even more important an amazing person. RIP— Chris Cosentino (@offalchris) December 3, 2013
Roses from Judy Rodgers garden...you taught us well from your food & legacy of Zuni! You will be missed! RIP JUDY. pic.twitter.com/sRwX4iy2ih— statebirdprovisions (@statebirdsf) December 3, 2013
So sad to hear about Judy Rodgers, chef of the wonderful Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.— Fuchsia Dunlop (@fuchsiadunlop) December 3, 2013
So sad to learn that Judy Rodgers is gone. Judy was the most modest, inspirational, intelligent chef. A lovely person and true pioneer. RIP.— ruthreichl (@ruthreichl) December 3, 2013
RIP Judy Rodgers from Zuni Cafe. I staged there back in the mid 90's. She was one of the greats. This year we have lost some legends.— Homaro Cantu (@Homarocantu) December 3, 2013
So sad to wake to news of Judy Rodgers. She was a true pioneer of grace and simplicity in cooking. I am so grateful for her gifts #zunicafe— NaomiPomeroy (@NaomiPomeroy) December 3, 2013
I learned more from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook than any other cookbook; Judy Rogers studied technique deeply and knew why she did everything.— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) December 3, 2013
Sad to awaken to news of Judy Rodgers' passing. A woman who defined "pioneer", & who was a savory talent & sweet soul. You will be missed.— Matthew Jennings (@matthewjennings) December 3, 2013
I remember a night at Zuni Cafe with a dear friend, that iconic chicken and the otherworldly warmth. The kind of small memory that lives on.— Francis Lam (@Francis_Lam) December 3, 2013
Whoa. Again another sad day in food. RIP Judy Rodgers. Great restaurant, food & book. SF & culinary role model. "Always cook with heart"— matthew gaudet (@GaudetMatthew) December 3, 2013
Zuni is a place I always say to go to in SF. Very sad to hear about Judy Rodgers.— Bill Telepan (@billtelepan) December 3, 2013
Woke up to hear the sad news of Chef and the Inspiration of Zuni Cafe in SF Judy Rodgers passing away. She touched many through her cooking— Bobby Stuckey (@BobbyStuckeyMS) December 3, 2013
Rest in peace Judy Rodgers. The Zuni cafe cookbook was an inspiration to my mother and me, especially. You will be missed. #rip— alex guarnaschelli (@guarnaschelli) December 3, 2013
Shocked to see Judy Rodgers died. Remember her father@Troisgros brothers,&later Judy.Her roasted chicken w/bread salad will be immortal.— Gael Greene (@GaelGreene) December 3, 2013
Zuni is one of the first reasons @evanrich27 and I fell in love with this great city. I never knew you, but I thank you.— Sarah Rich (@sallyhurricane) December 3, 2013
When I visit SF, I always make time for Zuni Cafe. And when I cook at home, it often comes from the Zuni Cafe ckbk. Thank you, Judy Rodgers.— Andrew Knowlton (@AndrewOKnowlton) December 3, 2013
Judy Rodgers had especially been on my mind w/ growing discussion of female chefs. Consider making this in tribute: http://t.co/V0GsY69rEO— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) December 3, 2013
Farewell Judy Rodgers ... and a million thanks for Zuni, a place that has become the heart of San Francisco's appetite.— Jon Bonne (@jbonne) December 3, 2013
Everything Judy Rodgers did she did perfectly: the contrast with California casual made her and it better, and Zuni Cafe unmissable.— Corby Kummer (@CKummer) December 3, 2013
what a sad day,Judy Rogers was such an inspiration and great chef. I felt home at my first meal at Zuni in the 9o's. You will be missed.,RIP— dominique crenn (@dominiquecrenn) December 3, 2013
Saddened to wake up to the news that Judy Rodgers has died. She made Zuni one of the city's great places, one you can't help loving.— Jonathan Kauffman (@jonkauffman) December 3, 2013
For almost 2 yrs I walked by Zuni Cafe daily on my way to work at Mecca. Seminal restaurant started by an amazing chef. RIP Judy Rodgers.— hugh acheson (@HughAcheson) December 3, 2013
Update, 2:11 pm: The Washington Post reports that Rodgers died of cancer of the appendix, with Pilgram as the source. Pilgram says he'll continue to run the kitchen at Zuni.
· Judy Rodgers Is Gone [Gurgling Cod]
· Judy Rodgers [David Lebovitz]
· Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe dies [Inside Scoop]
· Outstanding Chef 2004 [JBFA]
· Eater Elements: Zuni Cafe's Roast Chicken [~ EN ~]
· All Judy Rodgers coverage [~ ESF ~]
Judy Rodgers. [Photo: F&W / Courtesy Judy Rodgers]