Edna Lewis’ classic cookbook zooms up the charts after ‘Top Chef’ tribute

A black female chef from an era when those words were rarely seen together is finally getting her due among a broader audience. An iconic cookbook by Edna Lewis, the Virginia-born granddaughter of slaves who became “The Julia Child of the South,” shot up to number 5 on the Amazon cookbook bestseller list, and number 11 on its overall bestseller list as of the time this article was published, after a touching tribute on last night’s episode of the Bravo show “Top Chef.”

Lewis, who died in 2006 at 89, is already well-known — worshipped, really — among many culinary professionals. She moved to New York City in the 1940s, and after working briefly as a seamstress, she became a chef at Café Nicholson, a popular haunt for such celebrities as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Greta Garbo and Salvador Dali. She later worked at the Brooklyn restaurant Gage & Tollner, and at Middleton Place in Charleston, S.C. Lewis wrote several books, most notably the 1976 book “The Taste of Country Cooking,” the one currently shooting up the Amazon charts. (Disclosure: The Washington Post and Amazon share an owner.)

Lewis’s books helped people understand the sophistication of Southern cooking — “It’s not all fried chicken and greasy greens,” she said in a 1990 Washington Post interview. Though she received many accolades from such culinary groups as the Southern Foodways Alliance and the James Beard Foundation, and influenced many of the most famous Southern chefs today, she wasn’t exactly a household name. Maybe it was because of her no-nonsense demeanor. From the same 1990 Post story: “Lewis’ style is not so much creative as it is recreative, not so much analytical as it is practical. As she said at the opening of her speech [at the Smithsonian]: ‘We’re always cookin’. We never have time to talk about it.'”