(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gil Marks, an award-winning cookbook author, culinary historian, and writer died Friday morning in Jerusalem at age 62. Marks, a non-smoker, succumbed after a three-year battle with lung cancer.
Marks, a West Viriginia native who lived most of his life in New York, is perhaps best known for his 2010 The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, a 650-page tome that was the culmination of decades of research and covers ground from gefilte fish to mufleta, muaddara and melawach.
Marks – who received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University and held master’s degrees in social work and history – was the founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine, which was published from 1986 to 1992. In 1996 he published his first cookbook, The World of Jewish Cooking, and went on to write The World of Jewish Entertaining and The World of Jewish Desserts.
In 2004 he wrote Olive Trees and Honey, a vegetarian Jewish cookbook that won a prestigious James Beard award and was a finalist for for the IACP cookbook of the year award.
In 2012, Marks fulfilled a lifelong dream of making aliya and settled in Alon Shvut nearby his parents, despite a diagnosis earlier that year of stage IV lung cancer.
“It’s just one more interesting complication in life,” he told The Jerusalem Post at the time. He updated friends and family on his illness regularly via email, always maintaining an upbeat tone.
“I have had a great week so far. Little pain, plenty of appetite, and incredible energy,” he wrote in September.
He continued to travel back to the US to give cooking demonstrations and lectures on the food circuit, as well as small classes and events in Israel.
“I’m sort of like bringing the rabbi and rebbetzin in at one time,” he joked to this reporter several years ago. “I can do the sermons and the speeches and the cooking demonstration too.”
Even as his illness progressed, “kids in the neighborhood would come over for cooking lessons when he was up to it,” Marks’s sister, Sharon Altshul, remembered on Friday.
Though for the last few weeks of his life he entered a hospice to manage his pain, “he’d forget about the pain when he was talking about food,” Altshul said. “It was like magic medicine.”
Friends and colleagues remembered Marks as a “walking encyclopedia” as well as passionate teacher.
“Gil had a passion for kosher food that was unmatched,” said Menachem Lubinsky, founder of the annual Kosherfest trade show and the publisher of Marks’s Kosher Gourmet magazine. “His vision of kosher was of a cuisine that could be every bit as progressive as the most celebrated foods; yet never losing its humble roots and links to Jewish history.”
Though he spent his life writing about kosher food, he had been looking to enter the world of mainstream food writing, and was looking for a publisher for his latest manuscript, a history of American cakes.
Working throughout his illness, Marks began publishing a column of his history and recipes of “American Cakes” online, hosted on “The History Kitchen” site of food blogger Tori Avey. His final post was uploaded on November 11, on the history of Lane Cake.
“Gil was not only a remarkable scholar and food writer, he was a kind and generous person,” said Avey. “We became fast friends through our shared love of food history.
I am so grateful to have worked with him, and I am honored that his fascinating ‘American Cakes’ series will live on through my website.”
Gil is survived by his mother, Beverly Marks, his sisters, Sharon Altshul and Carol Vegh, his brothers, Rabbis Yaakov and Arthur Marks, and dozens of nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews. The funeral is scheduled to be held at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Kfar Etzion Cemetery.