Molly O’Neill, Writer Who Explored and Celebrated Food, Is Dead at 66


“She really taught that your notebook and your pencil — that was your instrument,” she said, “and you had to practice it every day.”

With Ms. O’Neill’s encouragement, Sara Kate Gillingham, a food writer and part-time neighbor in upstate New York, started the Dynamite Shop, a cooking school for young people in Brooklyn. Ms. O’Neill, she said, “seemed to eschew recipes and write from a guttural place, but it was because she understood the technicalities of food and words so well that she was able to wander off into this other zone.”

Molly O’Neill was born on Oct. 9, 1952, in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles and Virginia O’Neill. She was the only girl among five brothers. Her father worked at North American Aviation for a time and later had an excavation business; her mother sometimes worked in a hospital laboratory.

Baseball was a constant in Ms. O’Neill’s family: Her father was a minor league pitcher, and her brothers all played while growing up, though Paul, the youngest, was the only one to make a career of it, becoming a major league outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds and, from 1993 to 2001, the Yankees.

Columbus, Ms. O’Neill wrote in “Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Baseball” (2006), was considered representative of average America by food chains, which liked to try out new products in the city. Some of her earliest culinary memories involve taste-testing, something she took very seriously.

For a 1992 book, Ms. O’Neill went on a culinary exploration of the nooks and crannies of all five boroughs of New York City.

“I never sported my carefree smile when tasting new products at the grocery store or standing in line for free samples at prototypes for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Krispy Kreme doughnuts or Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips,” she wrote. “No, on those occasions I would close my eyes and try to align my heart and mind with the rest of the country’s. I knew that millions of dollars, the taste of dinner and the future of the American landscape rested in my tongue.”

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