Nancy Harmon Jenkins

writer | traveler | food authority | historian


I grew up on the coast of Maine but couldn’t wait to shake the dust of Camden from my heels, setting off at an early age to experience the world, not at first as a food writer but simply as a curious cat. My travels led me all around the Mediterranean and on to Southeast Asia, China, India, and the Middle East, as I gradually came to the realization that there is a powerful connection between who we are and what we eat. I’ve lived, worked, traveled, gardened, cooked, eaten, and raised two children throughout the countries of the Mediterranean, at various times making a home in Spain, France, Italy, Lebanon, and Cyprus (as well as in England and Hong Kong). Now I divide my time between an olive farm in Tuscany and a home in Maine. If I’ve learned anything from a fortunate life, it’s that the quickest route inside another culture is through its food. My life, my work, my travels have provided me with an education of the senses and an opening of my mind to people and places, customs and characteristics. My classrooms have been markets, restaurants, farmhouse kitchens, and sidewalk cafes, and my professors have ranged from farmers in their fields and gardens, to fishermen on the docks, to push-cart vendors of all kinds of street food (fried salted squid on the streets of Guangzhou, raw green almonds along Beirut’s corniche, lamb’s tender innards grilled on an open fire by the side of a Sicilian highway). But I’ve probably learned most in the very private but almost always welcoming kitchens of women who cook, from duchesses to assembly line workers.

What have I learned? That food is a dramatic (and delicious) expression of who and what people believe themselves to be and how they got that way. Is this cultural anthropology? Yes, I suppose it is, but it’s anthropology with the very important difference that you can taste the culture on your tongue and feel it between your hands, not to mention sniff its often heady aroma on the air.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is an authority on Mediterranean cuisines, on the Mediterranean diet and its consequences for good health, on extra-virgin olive oil, and (to her own surprise) on ancient Egyptian maritime technology. She is the author of many books, the latest of which is a collaboration with her daughter, Chef Sara Jenkins: The Four Seasons of Pasta (Avery Books, October 2015). Also in 2015 she published Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil (Houghton Mifflin, February 2015).

In addition to the above, she has written to date:

Two other books:

  • The Boat Beneath the Pyramid (a study of Ancient Egyptian boats and maritime technology)
  • Love with a Harvard Accent (a novel)

Contributions to:

  • The Chefs of Cucina Amore: Celebrating the Very Best in Italian
  • Cooking Italy: The Best Travel Writing from The New York Times
  • From  Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food (ed. By Arlene Voski Avakian & Barbara Haber)
  • The Oldways Table: Essays & Recipes from the Culinary Think Tank, by K. Dun Gifford & Sara Baer-Sinnott

Countless newspaper and magazine articles for: The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, International Herald-Tribune; Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Gastronomica, The Art of Eating, the New York Times Magazine, Vegetarian Times, Modern Maturity, Eating Well, Smithsonian, Downeast, Wooden Boat, Geo, Saudi Aramco World, and other publications.

She contributes to the on-line publication ZesterDaily.com.

Nancy also appears frequently as a commentator or participant on radio (NPR’s The Splendid Table, Good Food, All Things Considered; BBC’s The Food Programme) and on television (Cucina Amore, Ciao Italia!, TVFN).

As a speaker and discussant at international conferences and other venues, talking on a range of topics from olive oil and the Mediterranean diet to sustainable food systems and the state of the oceans and responsible seafood consumption, at Oldways Preservation Trust’s conferences in Europe and the U.S.; at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; at Boston University, Radcliffe College, and the Culinary Institute of America (Napa and Hudson valley campuses), among others.

As a leader of food tours of Italy (Sicily, Puglia, Tuscany-Umbria, Emilia-Piemonte), Spain (Catalonia, the Basque Country), and Tunisia,

And as a writer, coordinator and co-producer for a series of videos about the foods and wines of southern Spain, Sicily, and Puglia, produced for the CIA’s Worlds of Flavor program and available on the CIA web site, ciaprochef.com/apulia

Jenkins is a graduate of Wellesley College and the American University of Beirut. Before launching a free-lance career in the 1990’s, she was a staff writer at The New York Times and later served as Publications Director of the American Institute of Wine & Food. She was a founding director of Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, an organization she continues to work with from time to time.

If you’re in Maine? Check out Sara Jenkins’ restaurant “Nīna June”, 24 Central Street in Rockport, ME | Phone: (207) 236-8880 | http://www.ninajunerestaurant.com