Renowned Journalist and LA Times Food Writer Barbara Hansen Has Died

By Bonnie Carroll

Barbara Hansen, one of the first food writers to bring attention to international cuisines in Los Angeles through her work at the LA Times, and a James Beard award winner, died Sunday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Hansen was 90 years old and still active, writing on her blog and posting recipes on Instagram up until the end of her life. 

I was saddened to hear the news of her passing and remembered that in 2019 I arrived on assignment at a resort in Mexico to cover a food and wine story and was amazed to be among a group of food and beverage journalists that included my idol, Barbara Hansen. During this food writing adventure Barbara and I took off together for the town of Loreto to find an authentic Mexican restaurant and we spent three hours tasting and taking notes to include in our stories. I was so honored to be with her and was fascinated by the detailed story she published later. No one knew Mexican food like Barbara, and her Mexican Cookbook was applauded by chefs throughout the world and in Mexico.

I had not seen Barbara since 1983 when she covered the first Malibu Basil Festival and Pesto Competition that was showcasing the plants of a gardener near the Colony Market. Her research and interest in basil was a mind blower and the three-page story she wrote about basil in the LA Times food section overjoyed everyone, to say the least. There are no words to describe the amazing talent she had in the art of food, the composition and preparation, and her ability to translate it all into fabulous stories, usually with perfect accompanying photos. 

Born in Hollywood on October 30, 1932, she lived in Hancock Park, in the same house she grew up in, for her entire life with her beloved cats. After earning a B.A. from Stanford University, she then earned a master’s in journalism at UCLA before joining the Los Angeles Herald-Express. Hansen was later recruited by Los Angeles Times food editor Jeanne Voltz to help out with the section. She documented waves of immigration to Los Angeles, and wrote about their cuisines for decades, and was considered an authority on them by other writers from around the world and around the corner.  

Years before California cuisine popped, she wrote her first cookbook, California Cooking Style, in 1971, eleven years before Wolfgang Puck of Spago opened and tagged everything as new California cuisine. She also had a column in the 70s called Border Line for the LA Times, focused on restaurants, recipes and culinary stars in LA’s Mexican communities. Her cookbook  Mexican Cookery was followed by Taste of Southeast Asia. In 2013 a Korean restaurant guide for Los Angeles, commissioned by the Korean Food Foundation in Seoul, was published. 

Barbara Hansen, always a notebook in hand.

Barbara Hansen was a pioneer in the work she did, and I personally experienced her brilliance and adventure in finding new foods and chefs to learn from, and what an inspiration she was to all of us! Barbara Hansen excelled in documenting LA’s hidden cuisines and newly arrived cultures with fierce curiosity. 

She is survived by her nephew, Eric Daniel Ball (the son of her only sibling Lizbeth Hansen Ball, who is deceased); his wife, Jeanine Michelle Ball; and their sons Matthew Steven Ball and Justin Alexander Ball. She’s also survived by her cousin Anne and her husband David Palmer, and their daughters Alexandra and Mia Palmer; cousin Mary Besozzi, and her daughters Laurie and Katie Besozzi; and cousin Enid Woods. 

I was blessed to know her and am sure that my food curiosity and love for shining a light on food and chefs was magnified by watching her magic. She was a very quiet lady but carried a big pen. Her last words to me as we grabbed our luggage in LAX were “will I see you again” and I sincerely hope so, possibly in the big beautiful Mexican kitchen in the sky. 

Bonnie Carroll

Written by Bonnie Carroll

Writer, publisher, editor over 30 years, Bonnie Carroll is the present Publisher, Editor-in-Chief of Bonnie Carroll's Life Bites News founded 2005. She is also a contributor to a bevy of magazine and newspapers California and international since 1983.

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