Kathleen Weber, a Petaluma restaurateur, baker, and cookbook author, died over the weekend following a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.
Weber began her career as a self-taught home baker, she told the Commonwealth Club in 2014, starting as a hobbyist who — while living with her husband’s family on a Petaluma ranch — baked bread in a wood-burning oven constructed by her father-in-law. She eventually studied under blacksmith Alan Scott, the so-called “Artisan of the Brick Oven,” eventually constructing an oven based on Scott’s specifications.
“We were really the first on the West Coast to commercially produce bread (that way), in a small quantity albeit,” Weber’s husband Ed tells the PD. The couple, who were married for 55 years, first sold the bread door to door, and eventually became the bread supplier to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry.
In 1995, the couple opened Della Fattoria, an all-day, European-style bakery and cafe on Petaluma Boulevard that soon became a Sonoma County institution. The restaurant was named one of Bon Appétit’s best American bread bakeries in 2010 and made its list of best baguettes in America in 2011. Those honors, and her restaurant’s success, spurred Weber to pen Della Fattoria Bread in 2014, a cookbook praised by Ina “the Barefoot Contessa” Garten, among others.
Speaking with Serious Eats upon the book’s publication, Weber emphasized the importance of cookbooks as a way to understand worlds outside one’s own. “What better way is there to learn about other cultures than through their food,” Weber asked. “Cookbooks are not just about cooking; they’re often about lifestyle, traditions, and history. I am certainly not a world traveler, but I’ve absorbed intimate glimpses of regional cultures by understanding what people put on their tables.”
But while Weber sought other worlds through her cookbook collection (which she began at age 12), her roots remained firmly in Northern California. “She was trying to give the community something where her heart was in it,” chef Kay Baumhefner, a longtime Weber intimate, tells the PD. Marie McCusker, executive director of the Petaluma Downtown Association, shares that sentiment, saying that Weber was a “mom to the community.”
Two months ago, Weber’s husband tells the PD, she was diagnosed with a “pernicious” type of cancer. She died Saturday morning at the age of 75. Della Fattoria will reportedly hold a public open house to memorialize Weber on Saturday, January 25, with details expected later this week.