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Katie Stewart

Cookery writer;

Born: July 23, 1934; Died: January 13, 2013.

Katie Stewart, who has died aged 78, was one of the country's first culinary TV stars but, typically, was too modest to realise her role in the vanguard of celebrity chefdom.

She began her career in the austerity of a post-war Britain but quietly enthused a population, used to years of rationing, to embrace the joy of eating through her refreshingly down-to-earth, practical approach as a cook and food lover.

Her foolproof recipes were enjoyed by countless ITV viewers and fans of her newspaper columns and magazine articles, making her a best-selling author and cookery expert – one still hugely respected by today's generation of food writers.

Though born in Sidcup, she was resolutely Scots and adored Scotland. Her roots were in Aberdeen, home of her parents Dr Allan Stewart and his wife Lois. They had moved south for her father to establish a medical practice but returned north, after the outbreak of the Second World War, when Katie was five.

The family spent the rest of the war in the Granite City, going south again in 1945 to live in St Paul's Cray in Kent. Young Katie, a country-loving, outdoor girl with her own ponies and a practical streak, attended Blackheath High School. Although she did not excel academically she was good with her hands and opted to train at both Aberdeen's School of Domestic Science and the Westminster Hotel School in London.

Though the country endured the miseries of rationing until 1954, her fascination with food and cookery had already been sparked. It was further fuelled in Paris where she experienced the continental lifestyle as nanny for a rich family on the exclusive Avenue Foch and gained a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu school on the Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore.

In 1957 the adventurous 23-year-old set sail for New York, having secured a job working in the test kitchen of Nestle in White Plains. There she learned how to set out and develop recipes, run taste tests on new products and prepare dishes for photo shoots. America also introduced her to supermarkets, barbecues and chocolate brownies – which she reputedly fell in love with – and the myriad cooking styles of New York's immigrant population.

Two years later she was back in the UK, beginning her career as a cookery writer with the magazine company Fleetwood Publications. She became cookery editor of Woman's Magazine in 1963, introducing colour photographs to the food pages which had previously been in black and white, and went on to spend 32 years as cookery editor of Woman's Journal. Latterly she was a food writer for BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine.

In the early 1970s she also made several series of cookery programmes for Grampian Television, which aired on ITV, and spawned a number of Katie Stewart Cooks books.

Meanwhile she had also become established on The Times where she wrote increasingly popular recipe pages and a Saturday column, leading to The Times Cookery Book, the most successful of her extensive cook book bibliography. It was the volume cookery writer and presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall turned to as a youngster learning to cook – and remains one of his go-to reference books.

"There was a clarity and simplicity to her recipes. A little short introductory paragraph, just quickly explaining how the dish is going to turn out, is why it was a winner. And that little short intro is something I have in all my cookery books."

Hugh, whose youthful repertoire included many of Katie Stewart's puddings, said: "My memory of them is that they were not outlandish dishes, they were foolproof classics. I believe Katie was one of the most important cooker writers of the 20th century, right up there with Elizabeth David and Delia Smith."

Katie, whose 1961 marriage to Murray Leask, was dissolved, subsequently lived in Cuckfield, Sussex, with their son. There she threw herself into community life, becoming mayor in 2001 and happily dispensing cookery advice, with her habitual grace, charm and generosity, to all who called on her skills. In 2008 she was honoured with the Guild of Food Writers' lifetime achievement award.

A couple of years ago she was reintroduced to an old friend, wine merchant Derek Balls, with whom she found renewed personal happiness. She is survived by him, her son Andrew, his wife Nicola and grandchildren Archie, Harvey Bear and Scarlett.

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