Distinguished Faculty Award winner cooks up creative lessons for his students

Provost Maria Pallavicini and Professor of History Ken Albala

Moments after he was surprised with Pacific’s Distinguished Faculty Award, Ken Albala returned to his History of Food lecture that included video of him cooking in a European castle, discussion of the Snoop Dogg-Martha Stewart friendship and background on how the concept of pressure cookers was formulated—in the 1600s.

The wide-ranging lecture was typical for the professor of history, a renowned world-wide expert on matters of food and cooking, and one of Pacific’s faculty free spirits.

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Maria Pallavicini presented the award in the lecture hall in Wendell Phillips Center accompanied by College of the Pacific Dean Lee Skinner. Albala’s students gave him two hearty ovations.

“Dr. Albala is an outstanding Pacific faculty member committed to our students, to scholarship and to service,” Pallavicini said. “The university is honored to recognize Professor Albala’s outstanding teaching and commitment to our students, prolific scholarship and his service to the university.”

The Distinguished Faculty Award, presented since the 1970s, is the university’s highest faculty honor to recognize exemplary accomplishments in the areas of teaching, research and service. As a faculty member in the College of the Pacific since 1994, Albala has had a long career of being exceptional in all three areas. 

“When the provost and my dean walked in, I thought I was in trouble,” Albala deadpanned. “I am totally surprised by this honor and appreciative knowing some of the previous recipients. I am humbled.”

Albala has published or edited “27 and counting” books on food and cooking, many tracing food history back to the 1200s and earlier. He also has published dozens of articles, reviews and other scholarly works.

His interest in food history began when he was a student at Columbia University.

“I needed a dissertation topic and my advisor told me to go to the New York Academy of Medicine because they have comfortable chairs and it’s easy to sit and think,” Albala said. “The place also had an excellent selection of books on nutritional theory. I read them all and became passionate about food and its history.”

Albala is often sought by national and regional media for commentary on food trends or issues. His media hits have included the New York Times, the History Channel, television networks and many others.

Albala has served as a judge for the James Beard Foundation, the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the Association of the Study of Food and Society Book Award. During the COVID-19 pandemic he was interviewed often about the sourdough bread baking craze. He has taught many history classes other than food including Renaissance and Reformation, Imperial Spain, Western Civilization and more.

Skinner, the new College of the Pacific dean, has been very impressed during the short time she has worked with Albala.

“The breadth of his interests and publications is matched only by the precision and depth of the scholarly inquiry that undergirds his work,” she said.

Albala is popular with students because he “makes every class fun,” said Lorenzo Spaccarelli ’24, a history major, Powell Scholar and ASuop senator. Students describe him as engaging, memorable and passionate.

Spaccarelli recalled how Albala’s class worked with university food provider Bon Appetit to cook some of the exotic dishes from Albala’s books.

“He is an exceptionally talented, interesting, thoughtful and approachable faculty member,” Spaccerelli said. “You can tell how passionate he is about food and cooking and other history topics.”

Book talk: Hear Professor Albala discuss his book “The Great Gelatin Revival: Savory Aspics, Jiggly Shots, and Outrageous Desserts”