Lucy D. Cooper wrote about food and restaurants for the Miami Herald under the headlines “Behind the Menu” and “Wine and Dine,” and authored the 1988 cookbook, Southern Entertaining; A New Taste of the South.
As heartily as the Pennsylvania-born daughter of Italian immigrants had embraced the foods of the Deep South when she married an Alabama native, Cooper also embraced — and urged cooks and diners to explore — ingredients that Latin American and Caribbean cooks were adding to the cuisine of South Florida.
She also championed the young chefs who were introducing them to their menus.
Among them: Norman Van Aken, who said Cooper’s glowing 1985 review of his Key West restaurant, Louie’s Backyard, gave it “a tremendously big lift and was a big deal for my career’’ that “vindicated’’ his culinary vision, something that his own staff doubted at the time.
She wrote: “There are food writers, food faddists and knowledgeable epicures who view with skepticism the hype about New American Cuisine. They doubt that such a cooking style even exists.
“Before pronouncing any final judgments, skeptics should dine at Louie’s Backyard, where it is pristinely clear that there indeed is a New American Cuisine, one that can reach transcendent heights.’’
Van Aken called Cooper “regal, and a great lady,’’ who wrote during a time when “there was a standard to be upheld in food writing and restaurant criticism. She was South Florida restaurant criticism.’’
Cooper, of Fort Lauderdale, died in hospice care at Hollywood Memorial Hospital South on June 5. Born Lucy Deflaviano in 1917, she would have celebrated her 96th birthday on July 7.
Son Robert Dudley Cooper, of Dania Beach, said she succumbed to the infirmities of old age. She’d been a widow since her husband, trucking executive Guy Dudley Cooper, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1961.
He called his mother “very classy. Sweet, and there was no phoniness.’’
Though refined and proper, Cooper could be as tart as a key lime when either cuisine or ambiance failed to meet her rigorous standards.
Example: this 1982 evisceration of Chef Onecio’s Gourmet Restaurant in Broward County.
“Chef Onecio should have been content with the trattoria-style restaurant he owns on West Oakland Park Boulevard, where people line up for the early-bird dinner specialties,’’ Cooper wrote. “His new establishment, which is pretentiously billed as a gourmet restaurant, is made up of several large, dismal rooms yawningly empty of decor....
“The menu is one of those boring, me-too epistles that food people locked into the 1940s like to call ‘continental.’ It reeks of the usual clichés — lobster Newberg, shrimp Newberg, vichyssoise and Caesar salad, to name but a few.’’
As always, she ended the review with the question: “Would I return?’’
“I can’t imagine why,’’ she sniffed. “There are literally hundreds of such undistinguished restaurants in Broward that hardly warrant the first visit, let alone the second.’’
An accomplished cook who “made incredible Italian stuff,’’ according to her son, Cooper developed an interest in food while her family ran a grocery store during the Depression.