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Maria Guarnaschelli, Book Editor Who Changed What We Cook, Dies at 79


“Maria was a major contributor to the sea change in how cookbooks were done,” said Nach Waxman, founder of the Manhattan cookbook store Kitchen Arts and Letters and a colleague of Ms. Guarnaschelli’s at her first publishing job, as an editorial assistant at Harper & Row Publishers. She went on to hold senior positions at William Morrow, Scribner and W.W. Norton; she retired in 2017.

By refusing to simplify their work to reach a larger audience of American home cooks, Mr. Waxman said, “she squeezed great work out of her authors.”

Maria DiBenedetto was born in Brookline, Mass., on April 18, 1941. Her father, George DiBenedetto, was a refrigeration salesman, and her mother, Horatia Alice (Peabody) DiBenedetto, was a homemaker. She graduated from Emmanuel College in Boston and earned a master’s degree in Russian literature from Yale University, where she met her future husband, John Guarnaschelli, a history professor. He died in 2018.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two brothers, George and Stephen DiBenedetto; a sister, Lucia DiBenedetto; and a granddaughter.

For five tumultuous years in the 1990s, Ms. Guarnaschelli presided over a project that became a public debacle: a complete revamping of “Joy of Cooking,” the best-selling cookbook in U.S. history. Self-published in 1931 by a St. Louis housewife, Irma Rombauer, and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, the book sold thousands of copies every year but had not been substantially updated since 1975.

Backed by the publishing giant Simon & Schuster, where she was senior editor and vice president of the Scribner imprint, Ms. Guarnaschelli persuaded dozens of eminent cooks to rework the book into a modern culinary bible.

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