Louis Szathmary, Chicago Chef, Restaurateur and Author, Dies

Louis Szathmary, chef and cookbook author, died Friday in Chicago after a brief illness. He was 77.

Szathmary, who learned to cook in the Hungarian army, held a doctorate in psychology and a master’s in literature. He developed the first frozen dinners for Stouffer Food Corp. and was the chef-owner of the Bakery, a restaurant that was a Chicago favorite for years.

At the Bakery, he dominated the dining room with his commanding presence. He strode around in rolled-up sleeves, wearing an apron and his trademark handlebar mustache, often telling diners, in a booming voice, what to order or questioning them about why something was left on a plate.

In his spare time, Szathmary was a prolific writer of cookbooks, articles on gastronomy and poetry. His “The Chef’s Secret Cookbook” stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for several years. He edited a 13-volume collection of historic American cookbooks.


Szathmary spearheaded culinary education in Chicago by fostering work-study programs with restaurants at vocational and high schools. Students and dining enthusiasts were invited to use the library on the second floor of the Bakery. He shared a passion for travel by assisting first-time travelers with their plans to visit Europe and Asia.

In 1989, when he closed the Bakery, he donated his 400,000-item collection of cookbooks and culinary artifacts to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. The donation served as the foundation for the school’s Culinary Archives & Museum.