Happening People

Marie Simmons

When she was a child and part of a large Italian extended family in small-town Milton, New York, alongside the Hudson River, Marie Mataraza learned about food. “I stood on a stool and watched my mother pluck chickens and clean shrimp,” she says. “I had Saturday playdates in my grandmother’s kitchen.” After high school, she enrolled at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. “It’s mostly known for engineering and art,” she says. “I studied food and nutrition.” At Pratt she met her husband, John Simmons. She graduated and got her first job at Woman’s Day magazine in Manhattan, developing seasonal stories for the food pages. “I made lunch for James Beard when he visited,” she says. Later, she worked as a pastry chef at the historic Gage and Tollner Restaurant in Brooklyn, and rose to food editor at Cuisine magazine in New York. “It was heartbreaking when the magazine folded,” she says, “but it gave me the opportunity to write all these books.” Simmon’s first book, 365 Ways to Cook Pasta, was a bestseller in 1988, and she has since published more than 20 cookbooks. In the photo she holds Fig Heaven, written soon after she and John moved to El Cerrito, California in 1997. “Many are single-subject books,” she says. “I love to research.” The Simmons followed their daughter Stephanie when she relocated to Eugene in 2012. They keep bees, raise veggies and chickens for eggs, and have fig trees planted in the yard. Her latest book, Whole World Vegetarian, came out in 2016. “I think of it as my opus,” she says. “It brings together all of my travels and experiences. Each book represents where I was in my life at the time.”

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