The quantum cook
August 24th 2015, 13:22
Last month, WDDTY was saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Annemarie Colbin, one of its panel members, a visionary in the natural-food movement and a dear friend. In 1977, in need of income to support her young daughters, Dr Colbin started the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in the kitchen of her Upper West Side apartment. As the school likes to advertise, she was teaching kale and quinoa before the general public had ever heard of it.
Nearly 40 years later, the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, as it's now known and which long ago moved to its own premises in Manhattan, became one of the top schools in America for natural cookery, and the first and only natural-foods cooking school accredited by the New York State education department to offer a chef's training programme in the subject, graduating to date more than 2,500 natural gourmet chefs from 45 nations.
Annemarie was one of the early proponents of a wholefood diet, and was instrumental in popularizing the natural-foods movement as the key to a long and healthy life. "Change your diet, and you change your life," she said.
Early on, she was suspicious of 'fake' foods years before anyone had even thought to question processed foods. "To insure you have good food, cook it yourself: Teach kids to cook at home from scratch, not the microwave. Value the importance of families sitting down and eating together," she said, a vital message in an age where TV and mobile phones have replaced the art of conversation.
Annemarie went on to author a number of best-selling books, including Food and Healing, her masterpiece, became a visiting professor at a variety of universities, and numbered among her students John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon's famous stay-at-home, bread-baking phase probably began in Annemarie's kitchen.
Annemarie was steely tough, largely due to adversity. She had been born in the Netherlands during World War II, and once spoke of the fear she'd felt as a young child, huddled in a basement among strangers during the war, before her family emigrated to Argentina. Only after knowing her for years did we learn that her first child had died in a fire, started by a careless babysitter, and she had nearly lost her second.
"How did you survive that?" I once asked her. "You get up in the morning and you go to bed at night," she replied with characteristic pragmatism.
Although an early visionary of the natural-foods movement, in other parts of her life she was a late bloomer. In her 60s, she decided to get a PhD, choosing, as her subject, quantum biology and the effect of food on this quantum system. She became adjunct professor of nutrition at Empire State College and Touro College and, fascinated by the new science, chair of the Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Also relatively late in life-her mid-40s-she found lasting love. She began dating Bernard Gavzer, an investigative reporter and NBC producer then in his mid-60s, which is where our paths crossed; Gavzer was a friend and colleague from my days as a young investigative reporter in New York.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Gavzer had saved the life of the man who eventually became Annemarie's first husband. When the two soldiers reunited 40 years later, long after Annemarie and Rod were divorced, Gavzer began seeing her himself.
For both, who'd each been married twice before, it was third time lucky. They got married when Bernie was in his early 70s, Annemarie in her early 50s. "We'll have maybe 10 good years together," she said. In the event, their partnership lasted 25 years-a testimony to the fact that it's never too late.
They were also a testimony to how to model a modern family. The five children they had between them all adored each other and became close friends; each year at Thanksgiving, Bernie and Annemarie, with their former partners and all their joint children and grandchildren, would celebrate the holiday together. She was in her late 60s and he in his 80s, and they were having the time of their lives.
Bernie died at home at 90 after a short illness, with Annemarie and Jon, his eldest son, by his side. Six months later, Annemarie began complaining of heart failure and, although generally suspicious of conventional medicine, she was persuaded to undergo open-heart surgery. She had a stroke on the operating table and never fully recovered. After a second stroke this year, she died at 72.
Annemarie was an extraordinary pioneer to whom this magazine owes an enormous debt for all her prescient ideas. Ultimately, she outlived her far older husband by just two years, dying-in our view-of a broken heart. True love proved to be her best recipe of all.