Remembering Sylvia Schur, a pioneer who transcended the kitchen
Thanks to Julie & Julia, foodies are abuzz about Julia Child. Icon though she is, the story of a different sort of chef caught my attention this week. Sylvia Schur passed away at age 92 last week. Her obituary in the New York Times captivated me as I realized that this woman was no ordinary chef.
Sylvia Schur was not a stereotypical "Betty Crocker," though she did create recipes for the company. She did not wear pearls and an apron and stand in a TV studio stirring cake batter. Instead, she pioneered the modern food industry - creating the now classic recipes you see on the back of the box, problem solving with the heads of Ocean Spray, editing magazines, running a successful consulting company, and developing convenience foods for women on the go. Sylvia Schur was a creative champion of modern working women who refused to spend their days in the kitchen.
In 1958, just as Julia Child was hitting the airwaves, Sylvia Schur founded Creative Food Services, a firm that provided PR and consulting services to major food companies, manufacturers, and restaurants. Sylvia's Schur's genius was in finding realistic and modern applications for the burgeoning potential of technology and food science. And she was, in fact, something of a scientist.
In her test kitchen in Manhattan, she invented Cran-Apple juice cocktails as a way to help Ocean Spray extend the cranberrry season. Her company also consulted on Metrecal, which was invented by C. Joseph Genster of the Mead Johnson Company. The precursor to Slim Fast, Metrecal was developed as a result of the observation that working women often skipped lunch. Schur was commissioned by General Foods to develop new products and put new twists on old ones. She created recipes for Campbell and Tappan that made use of canned soups and microwaves.
But her talent extended far beyond the kitchen, or food lab, as it were. Schur was extremely skilled at PR, promoting products and recipes for her clients. In the course of her career, she was the food editor at Seventeen, Look, Flare, and Women's Home Companion. In 1978 she became the food editor of Parade magazine. She was succeeded by Julia Child.
Sylvia Schur's accomplishments astound me. As a woman who has avoided learning how to cook, I would not have survived my post-college years without her contributions to "convenience" foods. I am grateful to Sylvia not only for her creative achievements, but for redefining the role of women in the food industry. She led the way for female foodies to transcend the kitchen and take leadership roles in the corporate world.