I am at Appledore in Devon England visiting the son and daughter-in-law of Dione Lucas. Since my first encounter with Dione – on the cover of a 1950s cooking supplement from The Australian Women’s Weekly – she has both fascinated me and occupied much of my research time.
For my readers who do not know about Dione Lucas, she was an English born (daughter of British architect and silver smith Henry Wilson) Cordon Bleu trained chef. She and Rosemary Hume set up Cordon Bleu cooking school in London in the 1930s before she moved to New York and set up a cooking school there in the 1940s. Lucas taught French Cordon Bleu cooking to New York gastronomes and ran a very successful restaurant, The Egg Basket, where she served omelettes. Simple food now but then, very fashionable fare.
By 1948 she had her own television cooking show and she continued to host cooking shows on television, teach, publish cook books and write for magazines throughout the 1950s. Sponsored by The Australian Women’s Weekly, she toured Australia three times in the 1950s. In her time she was seriously famous but by the time I met her she had disappeared from our culinary memory.
Instead of Dione Lucas, Julia Child was credited with being the person who introduced French cooking to Americans, and being the first woman to have a cooking show on television.
Is it becoming apparent from my writing about her that I see her as someone who needs rescuing? I don’t like Julia Child for not fessing up: “It wasn’t me … it was Dione Lucas.” But she never did. On the public record she said nice things about Dione but off record she was pretty spiteful. I think Julia’s comments have a lot to do with Dione’s fall from fame, but I won’t go into that. I will save that snippet for the official biography.
I have grappled with all sorts of issues as I write about Dione. The main one being that I like her too much. But I won’t bore those of you who write biography the joys and hurdles biographers face.
What gives me so much joy today as I sit at Appledore in her daughter-in-law’s home is that on this visit I don’t have my recorder and our conversation is not about Dione. I am here visiting friends. The best part of researching and writing biography has to be the people that you meet on the journey. They give so much more than information. For me they have given a connection to Lucas that goes beyond facts and anecdotes.