I met Maida Heatter at Spago in 1986. I had forgotten our meeting until last month when I heard she had passed away. We spent an hour together, sipping martinis at the bar. This was the original Spago. Wolfgang introduced us. 

Out of school for only a year and trying to find a career in food, I was green. I didn’t realize what a lucky hour that was for me until a few years had passed. Her words of advice were, “Denise, find something you love and do it.”

I was still trying to get my food styling portfolio together. But I was catering and I loved giving beautiful parties. I did not know then that my career would continue to evolve around beautiful food. And that people would pay me. 

When the news broke that she had passed away, I could clearly remember her looking so regal and being so kind to me. In her honor I baked her famous Walnut Buttermilk Lemon Cake. 

It’s one of the few lemon cakes that comes close to my Grandmother’s Torta Di Noci. Full of butter and lemons, this old-fashioned cake stays moist for a week and the lemon flavor improves on the second day.

I made it in a Bundt pan. It came out perfectly. The cake had every advantage. Her directions in her baking books are impeccable. 

I took the pictures me making the cake. Listen to our Women Beyond a Certain Age podcast! Diane and I talk about Maida, Leah Chase and Molly O’Neill. The podcast episode is entitled “Losing Legends." 

Happy Summer!