Passing away yesterday, Sunday 30 September, at the ripe old age of 89, Marcella Hazan will forever be known as the woman who changed the way the US perceive and prepare Italian food. Just as Julia Childs did with French cuisine, Marcella taught generations of Americans how to cook simple, fresh Italian food and dispel the myth that Italian food involves offerings of stodgy overcooked pasta and tomato sauce, overpowered by the taste of garlic. 

A few of her mantras included the advocation of salt. She once wrote that if readers were concerned about the amount of salt in their cooking and how that would impinge on their health, “not [to] read any further.”

Similarly, Marcella had a very stringent view on the overloading of garlic in cooking. “The unbalanced use of garlic is the single greatest cause of failure in would-be Italian cooking,” she wrote in her 2004 cookbook “Marcella Says...”. ’It must remain a shadowy background presence. It cannot take over the show.”

In honour of Marcella and her impact on the way we will cook Italian food for years to come, we take a retrospective view on her life and its many highlights, below…

Marcella Hazan

Born in 1924 in the Emilia-Romana region of Italy, Cesenatico, Marcella Pollini didn’t intend on a life in the culinary industry as a cooking teacher and author of some of the world’s best-known cookbooks. She graduated from the University of Ferrara with a Ph.D. in natural sciences and biology.

She met her soon-to-be husband Victor Hazan in Italy, whom she married in 1995 and moved to New York City with soon after.

Realising that with her new title as Mrs. Hazan, she had the responsibility of feeding her husband, Marcella attended various cooking classes, including a Chinese cooking class, which were soon cancelled in favour of her teaching her fellow students how to cook traditional Italian food. And so she embarked on a career in cookery classes…

Starting from her New York City Apartment, Marcella’s classes blossomed into a lifelong venture which culminated in her later opening a cooking school in Bologna and then in Venice, with her husband.

In 1958, Marcella gave birth to a son called Giuliano. Entrusted with the bug of good food, Giuliano followed in his parents’ footsteps and now owns a cookery school in Verona with his wife. He has also published cookery books, including Hazan Family Favourites released earlier this year, which he dedicated to the memories of his parents and grandparents and the food they ate and taught others to love along the way.

Hazan’s own life as a cookbook author has made her an influential figure in the culinary world. Her cookbook The Classic Italian Cookbook, published in 1973, led gourmands to compare her to world-renowned cookbook author and pioneer of French cuisine in the US: Julia Childs.

Among her accolades, Marcella was awarded the much-celebrated James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

A strong sense of sorrow for Marcella’s death and at the same time a celebration of all that she achieved throughout the life which she dedicated to educating people about the importance of good food has been determined through heart-felt messages from family, friends and fans on Facebook and Twitter. 

“The world of cooking has lost a giant today,” daughter-in-law Lael Hazan tweeted Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday, Victor Hazan wrote on Facebook: “Marcella, my incomparable companion, died this morning a few steps away from her bed. She was the truest and best, and so was her food.”