Anna Thomas was born to a Polish family in Stuttgart, Germany and came to the United States as an infant immigrant. She grew up in Michigan and California, learned to speak English and eat white bread, and in the late sixties decided to go to film school.
Away at college, she taught herself to cook: "In self defense! I needed to eat, and who could afford to go out?” She moved gradually to a vegetarian diet, rediscovered black bread, drifted away from kielbasa, and evolved her own culinary style.
She wrote her first cookbook, “The Vegetarian Epicure” (Knopf, 1972) while she was a graduate student in film at The University of California at Los Angeles. It became a phenomenal success and remains a classic, universally acknowledged as the book that brought pleasure to vegetarian cooking.
A few years later, having expanded her culinary horizons through travel and tasting of new foods, she completed her second book, “The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two;” it was published by Knopf in 1978. Both books have been translated into several languages, together have sold in the millions, and have remained continually in print.
But cooking and food writing remained an avocation, and Anna continued her film work.
In 1977 she wrote, produced and directed her master's thesis film, an ambitious dramatic feature titled The Haunting of M. The turn of the century ghost story was shot in Scotland - and financed with the advance money from “The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two.”
At the same time, she formed a creative partnership with fellow film student Gregory Nava (they later married): it was the beginning of a writing collaboration that spanned more than two decades, and included the films El Norte, for which they were nominated for an Academy Award, A Time of Destiny, My Family, Mi Familia, and Frida. (For more on Anna's work with food and with film, see Roger Ebert's profile of Anna.)
Anna continued to work in the film industry as a producer and a writer as she raised two sons. Christopher and Teddy. In the midst of her work in filmmaking, Anna kept cooking - for friends, for parties, and for her children, who frequently refused to eat their vegetables, just like yours.
In 1995, while working on My Family, Mi Familia, Anna decided to write another cookbook. "I had become a very different kind of cook," she says. "My style had become both more sophisticated and - at home with my kids - more simple.” In 1996, “The New Vegetarian Epicure” was published, a menu-based cookbook with a brand new collection of recipes.
When the kids were grown and gone to college, Anna radically downsized her household, moving from a giant, rambling house on a ranch to a one-room converted artist’s studio, where she lived while re-building a modernist house on the same property. Working in a kitchen that measured 81-inches from wall to wall, she began a passionate relationship with soups – “the food that saved me.” That evolved into the book “Love Soup” (W.W. Norton, 2009), which won Anna her first James Beard Award.
Her newest book, “Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore: Dinner For Everyone At The Table,” was published in April, 2016, and in it Anna goes into new territory, turning her thoughts to a larger question: Can we all sit down and eat dinner together? Seeing how differently people are eating – differently than in the past, and differently from each other – Anna addresses the problem of how to make a delicious meal for a mixed group and re-unite our divided tables.
Anna Thomas lives in Ojai and Los Angeles, where she continues her cooking and film-making adventures, and teaches screenwriting at the American Film Institute Conservatory. Her food writing has been published in Gourmet, Eating Well, The Los Angeles Times, Fine Cooking, and many other publications.