In Memoriam:
Paule McPherson

A new student entering Paule McPherson’s cooking classes in the late ’70s through ‘90s at Santa Barbara Adult Education might have worried they were in the wrong place — a party rather than a culinary lesson. The room was packed and the clink of coffee cups containing hidden beverages blended with a dozen conversations. One attendee mingled by giving shoulder massages.

Finally, students would turn their attention to the instructor, usually because she would call out above the din with a booming English accent — “Quiet down, you lot!” — or loudly ring a bell.

Paule’s daytime classes dubbed themselves Ladies Who Lunch, despite the occasional gentleman. The nighttime students were known as the Vortex. To this day, the two groups are friends and remain fans of their beloved cooking instructor.

Usually wrapped in an apron, Paule was well-known in Santa Barbara as a caterer and teacher. Her natural skill and drive were further developed during her chef training at Le Cordon Bleu. People flocked to her classes and food preparation demonstrations for not only a top-notch education in cooking but also her fascinating stories and commentary about the history of food and language. Students loved and respected her, and most would enthusiastically raise their hands to volunteer to assist her.

Pauline was born in London in 1935, the only child in a poor family living in a cold-water workman’s cottage. Her teenage nickname stuck. “It’s ‘Paule’ with an ‘e’ — the French version of Paula,” she would explain.

Her mother sought to rise above her station, so the family spoke the Queen’s English and her mother designed clothing that mirrored Vogue magazine photos. “Mum shaved my head when I was 3, hoping it would grow back curly, which didn’t work, of course,” Paule said.

She was sent away to a country boarding school during World War II but had already experienced the trauma of war. She never forgot the sound of buzz bombs overhead, one of which killed the candy-store owner down the street. Paule attributed her preference for mountains of butter on toast — “Nana butter,” her grandchildren later called it — to the sparse war rations of her youth.

Her father was a driver for Sir Roderick Jones, a journalist at Reuters. Later, her parents became publicans, running a bar called The Tabard, which still stands today as a pub and small theater. Paule shared stories about family life as publicans, including her big birthday bash there, which featured a band member later affiliated with The Goon Show.

As a young woman, Paule’s passion for artistic expression led her to the renowned Slade School of Art at London University. Immersed in such creative surroundings, she honed her talents and explored sculpture and drawing. She modeled for drawing classes, which she insisted was an underrated workout, sitting in one uncomfortable pose for hours on end.

She lived for a time with the renowned sculptor Lynn Chadwick at his Lypiatt estate in Gloucestershire, the site of her first cooking-related snafu. She prepared a massive salad for a group of visitors and poured the dressing on hours before the dinner. “The salad was the consistency of soup by the time we sat down,” she would reminisce years later. “It was humiliating! But I learned my first catering lesson of many.”

Paule’s lifelong friend, Eileen Clark, asked her to visit her in Santa Barbara. Little did she know she would spend the rest of her life there.

It was the 1960s, and Paule found herself in the Bohemian community of Mountain Drive, where she met her future husband, Duke McPherson. She knew the relationship was fated when she discovered Duke had the same volume of poetry by TS Eliot.

In the vibrant atmosphere of hot tubs, wine stomps, and endless parties, she found herself in a world that embraced unconventional lifestyles and free-spirited creativity. While she may not have fully immersed herself in the community’s lifestyle — it wasn’t her fate to be a Mountain Drive Wine Stomp Queen of the Year — Paule’s warmth, authenticity, and culinary prowess endeared her to the hearts of her neighbors.

It was in Santa Barbara that she discovered the professional path that merged her creativity with her love for all things gastronomic. Embracing her role as a creative professional at Pierre Lafond in Montecito, Paule designed Pierre’s fabric signage, created pillow-shaped dolls and other artistic delights for the store, and coordinated presentations that highlighted kitchen machines like the Braun Food Machine and the Cuisinart. She would later say that she played a key role in creating the store’s Upstairs shop.

While she was a gifted seamstress who, like her mother, designed and created her own clothing, Paule’s true passion was for cooking. Her love for flavors, textures, and the communal experience of sharing a meal fueled her desire to connect with others through food. As a cooking demonstrator at Robinson’s and Pierre Lafond, Paule charmed audiences with her culinary creations, infusing each dish with her unique flair. Her infectious enthusiasm inspired both novice and seasoned cooks alike, and her dedication to her craft shone through every recipe she created and shared.

One of the highlights of her professional life was cooking for Julia Child and her crew during the production of Julia’s video series The Way to Cook. That experience earned her an acknowledgement in Julia’s book of the same name.

Paule’s name is set in stone on the walls of Santa Barbara City College Schott Center, engraved on a tile that reads, “35 years of culinary genius,” along with her colleague and friend, Jane Hollander Bonifazzi. Known to their Saturday workshop students as The Spice Girls, the two colleagues both had the honor of assisting Jacques Pépin during his guest cooking class in Santa Barbara. Not normally one to relinquish the spotlight in the kitchen, Paule supported the iconic chef while dueling for friendly dominance behind the scenes with Jane.

While she eventually considered Santa Barbara home, she traveled back to England often. On one trip, she left Duke and her children a massive pot of Pork and Nopalitos (cactus) to tide them over until her return. Even for young ones, it was delicious enough to eat for the entire two weeks she was gone.

Paule’s life journey came to a close on May 31, 2023, after enjoying over five decades of marriage to Duke, raising two beloved children, delighting in three grandchildren, loving hundreds of friends far and wide, and teaching thousands of cooking students. If you’re inspired to try her recipes, please make a meal for your loved ones in her honor. She would be delighted to know the party continues.

Pork and Nopalitos

3 Tbs oil
2 large onions
4 cloves garlic
3 lbs pork, cut into cubes
1 large can tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 large jar cactus leaves, cut and drained
Pinch of sugar
1 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper
2 or 3 jalapeño chiles

Sauté onions and garlic in hot oil. Add pork pieces, cook. Add rest of ingredients, reserving half of cilantro to add just before serving. Cook until pork is tender, about 1 hour. Can be reheated after refrigerating overnight. Add more or less of each ingredient according to taste.

Chocolate Mousse

6 oz semisweet chocolate
5 Tbs boiling coffee
4 eggs, separated
2 Tbs rum or Grand Marnier

Melt chocolate in top of double boiler with coffee. Off the heat, stir in the yolks and liqueur, mixing well. Beat the whites until they hold stiff peaks but are not too dry. Carefully fold in the chocolate mixture.

Food processor: Chop the chocolate until it is very fine, then add boiling coffee with the machine on. Add egg yolks and liqueur and continue as above.

You can use any chocolate you like. Chips work well. If you like an intense taste, substitute part of the semisweet with bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate.

Garnish with whipped cream and chocolate leaves.


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