Famed Austin Food Writer Virginia Wood Dies at 67

A one-time pastry chef, she became a major force in the local restaurant scene

Virginia Wood, who died from various conditions on March 2 at the age of 67, was an Austin institution. A onetime tortilla and dessert maker for Fonda San Miguel, and then a baker and pastry chef supplying both sweet and savory delights to a number of local restaurants, Wood signed on as restaurant critic for The Austin Chronicle, the town's popular alternative weekly, in 1992. Five years later, she was named the publication's food editor, a post she relinquished only in 2014, continuing to write for the paper for another two years.

Wood covered restaurant and other food news with journalistic attention to detail, and as a restaurant critic was straightforward and informative, not an ornate stylist but a genuine enthusiast for what she liked. "Steaks are cooked exactly as ordered," she once reported, reviewing Cowboy Steakhouse in Kerrville, in the Texas Hill Country. "Have a buffalo steak and you'll really know you've eaten a piece of meat." Rhapsodizing about Remember When Dairy buttermilk, she wrote: "Tangy and luxurious, this marvelous liquid was my favorite discovery of the year. It made everything taste better — biscuits, cornbread, chocolate cakes, pralines, buttermilk pie. Oh, my!"

Wood was obese and, in recent years, increasingly immobile. In 2007, in a piece for the Chronicle in which she admitted "I've been fat all my life" and "By the time I became a restaurant critic for the Chronicle…I weighed about 300 pounds," she revealed that she had had lap-band surgery. This helped her lose some weight, but she remained beset by a number of serious health issues.

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In 2017, more than 30 Austin area chefs and bakers contributed to a bake sale with 100 percent of the profits going to help Wood, who was then in critical care in San Antonio. "During her career," wrote the Chronicle's Kali Venable on the occasion, "Wood mentored many in the food and writing communities, playing a pivotal role in making the city’s rich food culture into what it is today. Many of Austin's most recognizable chef names were first introduced to the public through her column, and she was among the first to lend support to Austin's, now thriving, farm-to-table movement."