by Joan Reardon
A true Dame of Distinction, the talented and treasured Alma Lach died on October 1, 2013
Born in Petersburg, Illinois, in 1914, and raised on a 600 acre farm downstate in New Salem, Alma shared household duties with her sister, more often than not cooking the family’s meals. “There was a hen house and we had eggs and a cow for butter and buttermilk. I could make anything I wanted and did on a wood-burning cook stove,” she said. She even won a prize for a dish in a 4-H contest.
Majoring in Home Economics at the University of Chicago, she met her future husband, the historian Donald F. Lach, married, and then when Donald was awarded a Guggenheim in 1949, they went off to Paris with their small daughter Sandy. Suggesting that perhaps there was more to cooking than pan gravy, Donald encouraged Alma to enroll in the formal three-year culinary degree program at the Cordon Bleu. By 1956 she had clocked enough hours to be awarded a Grande Diplome. Also during those Paris years, which were interrupted by occasional periods in the States, she published A Child’s First Cookbook (1950) and three more children’s cookbooks for Campbell. And she was an early TV personality; creator, producer, and performer of the show “Let’s Cook” the first cooking show for children.
Everything she wrote from those early forays into children’s cookbooks, the Sunday and Friday columns in the Chicago Sun Times where she served as the food editor from 1957-1965, her frequent local and national TV appearances, and the monthly newsletter Alma’s Almanac led to Cooking a la Cordon Bleu (1970), and, ultimately, to her monumental Hows and Whys of French Cooking (1974), the first cookbook to be published by the University of Chicago Press.
Since 1985 she has been traveling, developing, and testing recipes for the Hows and Whys of Chinese Cooking and developing the art of electronically scanning examples of Asian food carving and garnishing. During her long and impressive career, Alma Lach has been named a Chevalier du Tastevin in Dijon, and she has garnered many other awards and honors, but her membership in Les Dames since 1982 remained one of her on-going loyalties. As one of the founding members, she connected the past and the present for Chicago’s members.
She was and will always be thought of as a professional’s professional, a mentor and friend. She will be missed.