Chef, Restaurateur, Cookbook Author
The expression “young and impressionable” may have gotten its origins from the story of Judy Rodgers culinary journey. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Judy Rodgers went to France as a 16 year old exchange student in 1973 to spend the year with the French friends of a neighbor. These friends were none other than the legendary Troisgros brothers of Les Freres Trousgrois restaurant, France’s best restaurant.
With no prior interest in cooking, Rodgers, at the suggestion of that same neighbor who had arranged her stay, documented everything she ate and every recipe on the restaurant’s menu. She hadn’t planned to study cuisine, but the fates couldn’t have been kinder in bringing her to this place. While Rodgers never actually cooked at Les Freres Troisgros, the lessons learned through observation, explanation, instruction, and consumption proved to be not only an incredible motivation towards a successful culinary career, but invaluable to Rodgers in practicing her craft to this day.
After returning to the states in 1974, Judy Rodgers went to California to attend college, with no plans yet to make cooking a profession. A friend working at Chez Panisse, the Berkeley, California restaurant often called the birthplace of California cuisine, thought Rodgers should visit the restaurant and meet the passionate staff. With a glimmer of hope that there was a place in America that could be as inspiring as Les Freres Troisgros, Rodgers made a reservation, met the now legendary Alice Waters, and accepted her offer to join the Saturday lunch team. Rodgers believes that there was no better place in America to learn to cook than Chez Panisse.
Returning to France to travel, Rodgers stumbled on another opportunity to develop her culinary skills in an apprenticeship in a small village café/restaurant/inn called l’Estanquet. A friend took her there for what she thought was merely a visit, not knowing the proprietress was expecting her to stay and cook. Staying on in France until the money ran out, Rodgers returned to California, and it was again Alice Waters who led Judy to the next stage of her culinary development. Already quite versed in the cuisine of France, Rodgers began working with Marion Cunningham on a menu of simple and traditional American dishes at the Union Hotel in Benicia, California. It was at this time that she recognized and appreciated the similarities between American home cooking and traditional French cuisine.
In 1983, Judy Rodgers rented a farmhouse outside Florence, Italy, and once again began to write down everything she ate, cooked, and found for sale at the local markets. After subsequent trips through many other parts of Italy, Rodgers returned to California with a significant goal: to settle down at a restaurant that would allow her to cook and share the traditional foods of France and Italy that were so much a part of her own culinary history. She found this place in San Francisco, and became chef at the Zuni Café in 1987.
Fifteen years, many excellent dishes prepared, and many culinary milestones later, Judy Rodgers used her extensive hand written notes and priceless hands on experiences to create The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant, which has since been honored with the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook of the Year Award, and International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Book of the Year in the Chefs & Restaurants category. The Zuni Café also received the James Beard/Pellegrino Outstanding Restaurant award.
Inspired by every aspect of food – where it comes from, what has been written about it, where she may have first tasted it, and who she may have learned about it from - Judy Rodgers cooks what she loves, and her customers and peers love what she cooks. To Judy Rodgers, food is a labor of love and her best advice is “always cook with heart”.
- Judy Rodgers went to France as a 16 year old exchange student in 1973 - she became acquainted with the chefs and culinary style of France's most famous restaurant, Les Freres Trousgrois
- At Chez Panisse, the Berkeley, California restaurant, she met Alice Waters and joined the Saturday lunch team
- In San Francisco, Judy became chef at the Zuni Café in 1987
- Cookbook - honored with the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook of the Year Award