A Friend, Plainly Spoken

By Dana Bowen

Published on August 8, 2007

We were saddened by the news that Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of Food Lover's Companion, died in January after a battle with cancer. Since its publication in 1990 by Barron's, that handy softcover dictionary has morphed into something of an appendage, comfortably in our hand whether we're cooking, writing, or eating. Other books woo us with historical and technical weight, but this one won us over with straight answers to persistent culinary questions like What can I substitute for buttermilk? and What the heck are chalazae? (They're cordlike strands of egg white connected to the yolk.) Tyler Herbst, who never revealed her age, began writing food books only in 1983; she published 16 in all, including the estimable Food Lover's Tiptionary (Morrow, 1994). But it was Food Lover's Companion that came to define her career. The authoritative glossary was an unpretentious navigational aid that taught waiters how to pronounce the names of dishes and gave home cooks an arsenal of tips and techniques. "She wanted to make it user-friendly because, when she was learning about food, she didn't have a tool like this," said Ron Herbst, her husband of 38 years. The book has expanded alongside America's culinary consciousness, growing from 3,000 terms in the first edition to more than 6,700 in the edition due out this fall. "What I like about her best," said New Orleans restaurateur Dickie Brennan, a longtime friend of Tyler Herbst's, "is that there was never any BS." We wholeheartedly agree.

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