Judy Rodgers, the woman noted for being the chef-partner of the Zuni Café since 1987 as well as the author of the Zuni Café Cookbook, died at the age of 57 Monday. And Zuni's Roast Chicken with Bread Salad stands as her most famous dish.
From The Zuni Café Cookbook, she writes of said chicken:
That brick oven ushered in a litany of dishes—and, one fateful afternoon when I was feeling overworked, under the weather, and debating what to cook in the brick oven that night, I floated an idea with Billy and Vince.
"Why not just roast a chicken? A whole chicken, to order. People could share it. It would be delicious out of that oven and simple. I bet people would go for it." People did go for it. We never stop apologizing for the wait, but we just can't roast enough chickens, fast enough. Juggling up to 19 birds, and their bread salads, on about twelve not-very-accessible square feet of oven deck is a feat.
While no official cause of death has yet to emerge, Gayle Pirie penned a piece for Inside Scoop in December 2012 detailing Rodgers' battle with cancer. In part, she writes: "My chef, Judy Rodgers, suffered a catastrophic illness that has taken my breathe away each time I recount the stages of pain she has undergone since September 4 of this year. Her story is one of a rare cancer that slowly metastasized over a series of years which finally gave way to excruciating symptoms that luckily — yet painfully — led to a correct diagnosis and a serious, life-threatening operation."
Rodgers' best advice was to "always cook with heart." Speaking of which, chefs and famous food types took to Twitter shortly after midnight to express their sadness over her passing:
I am so sad to hear that Judy Rodgers has passed. A wonderful chef and person. My first great meal in SF was Zuni in 1990. RIP, friend.— daniel patterson (@dcpatterson) December 3, 2013
So sad to learn that Judy Rodgers is gone. Judy was the most modest, inspirational, intelligent chef. A lovely person and true pioneer. RIP.— ruthreichl (@ruthreichl) December 3, 2013
It's a sad day! Judy Rodgers thank you for the inspiration. Amazing chef and even more important an amazing person. RIP— Chris Cosentino (@offalchris) December 3, 2013
I am so so so so saddened to learn Judy Rodgers passed today. Such a brave, talented and inspirational woman. SF has lost one of our greats.— Marcia Gagliardi (@tablehopper) December 3, 2013
Sad to awaken to news of Judy Rodgers' passing. A woman who defined "pioneer", & who was a savory talent & sweet soul. You will be missed.— Matthew Jennings (@matthewjennings) December 3, 2013
@John_Birdsall same for us in August :(— Ragazza SF (@RagazzaSF) December 3, 2013
Roses from Judy Rodgers garden...you taught us well from your food & legacy of Zuni! You will be missed! RIP JUDY. pic.twitter.com/sRwX4iy2ih— statebirdprovisions (@statebirdsf) December 3, 2013
Below, watch Rodgers make Zuni's Ricotta Gnocchi: