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U.S. Postal Service debuts celebrity chef stamps

The U.S. Postal Service has just come out with limited edition celebrity chef stamps — and those celebrity chefs do not include Guy Fieri or Giada De Laurentiis. Not even Bobby Flay or Wolfgang Puck.

We’re talking dead celebrity chefs, from the near past.

If you had to pick five, who would you choose? Actually, a couple of them are not chefs per se, but more prominent food figures who gave a big push to the renaissance of food in America.

Quick, think.

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James Beard, yes. Julia Child, good.

But also Joyce Chen (1917-1994), “one of America’s most well-known promoters of Chinese food. From her landmark restaurants in the Boston area to her cookbooks and trailblazing PBS television show, Chen invited newcomers to sample unfamiliar dishes in ways that firmly established Chinese cuisine in the United States.”

Among the five is Virginia’s beloved Edna Lewis (1916-2006), who brought Southern cooking to the attention of the nation with “The Edna Lewis Cookbook” in 1972 and four years later, “The Taste of Country Cooking.” Her simple, fresh cooking at restaurants around the country -- and her books -- influenced a generation of American chefs.

Probably the least-known figure today may be Edward (Felipe) Rojas-Lombardi (1946–1991), who was born and raised in Peru, and is credited with bringing the small plates tapas concept to American restaurants -- decades ago.  He was assistant to James Beard in the late ‘60s and later chef and owner of the Ballroom in New York City where he introduced tapas to the city. His last cookbook was “The Art of South American Cooking.”

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At a ceremony to dedicate the stamps, U.S. Postal Service Entry Mail and Payment Technology Vice President Pritha Mehra, who runs a cooking school herself, said: “These chefs invited us to feast on regional and international flavors and were early -- and ardent -- champions of trends that many foodies now take for granted.”

In sharing their know-how, she added, “they encouraged us to undertake our own culinary adventures, and American kitchens have never been the same since. That is why today, we are celebrating not only five celebrity chefs, but also the unique flavors and dishes that -- thanks to them -- have become American staples.”

On his stamp, Beard smiles benevolently above his signature bow tie. Lewis looks spirited and glamorous, Chen elegant in Chinese dress. Rojas-Lombardi looks every inch the proud chef in his whites. But where did they get that photo of Child in an unflattering, big-collared green shirt?

Time to write some letters. A friend just sent me a sheet of 20 of the celebrity chefs, who now join baseball players, jazz musicians, cacti and more in celebrating America. A sheet of 20 stamps is $9.80 from the Postal Service.

Follow @sirenevirbila on Twitter for more on food and wine.


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