Holly Clegg head shot.jpg

Holly Clegg

Advocate food columnist Holly Clegg died Friday in Dallas. She had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in August 2018. She was 64.

The best-selling cookbook author entered hospice care in June after her team of doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston advised against continued treatment.

During her cancer fight, Clegg used her high profile to educate others on gastric cancers and, with her family, created the Holly Clegg Gastric Cancer Research Fund at MD Anderson to raise awareness of gastric cancers.

It was not her first time in this role.

After taking care of her father while he was undergoing chemotherapy, Clegg partnered with Baton Rouge oncologist Dr. Gerald Miletello to write “Eating Well Through Cancer” in 2001.

"When I called her to discuss her hospice decision, she started talking about the cookbook," Miletello said, adding that, despite her illness, she was still smiling. "It’s truly amazing. She has been a pleasure to work with, and I will always be thankful to her for working with me to get this book published."

In 2018, Clegg partnered with men’s health specialist Dr. Curtis Chastain on “trim & TERRIFIC: Guy’s Guide to Eating Well.”

“Around five years ago, I was privileged to speak at a conference about men's health, and I met Holly Clegg after she spoke to the same audience about healthy eating,” said Chastain, who approached Clegg about combining their interests.

“Holly was really excited because it was an opportunity to do something a little different — create a cookbook that also happened to be a basic guide for healthier living,” Chastain said. “Guys typically struggle to find the time to cook healthier, and to be healthier, so we knew that men would really appreciate this book as a way to help them improve doing both. Watching her put it all together was simply amazing. I never knew how much was involved putting a cookbook together. Holly not only had to create the recipes, she had to photograph every completed meal, calculate all the nutritional info, work with the publisher, marketers, illustrators and then, finally, make sure I stuck to the medical stuff and stayed out of her kitchen."

The collaborations with Miletello and Chastain were just two of the partnerships Clegg formed while penning her highly successful "trim & TERRIFIC" and "Eating Well" cookbook series, which number more than a dozen books and have sold more than 1.5 million copies.

She worked with experts at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, writing as part of the series books on "Diabetic Cooking" and “Eating Well to Fight Arthritis.” 

Approaching menopause, Clegg enlisted a group of friends to help test facial products made with everyday food. The winners are included in her “trim & TERRIFIC: Too Hot in the Kitchen” cookbook. It also included some “spicy advice” showcasing Clegg’s infectious sense of humor.

Other titles in her “trim & TERRIFIC” series include "Gulf Coast Favorites," "Louisiana Kitchen: Southern Cuisine," "Kitchen 101," "American's Favorites," "Home Entertaining the Easy Way" and "Freezer Friendly Meals."

Clegg, known as the "Queen of Quick," began writing her "Well Done" column and health-conscious, easy recipes for The Advocate in 2017. She also had been a regular contributor to NBC's "Weekend Today" show, and appeared on "Harry," Harry Connick Jr.'s talk show; "Fox & Friends," QVC, "The 700 Club" and CNBC. Clegg also contributed to Cooking Light magazine, WebMD and the Huffington Post and hosted a recipe website called thehealthycookingblog.com

Clegg served as spokeswoman for Walmart, Betty Crocker, Teflon/Dupont, Tyson, the Coca-Cola Co., Georgia Pecan Board, American Plastics Association, Nakano Seasoned Rice Vinegars, Albertsons, Pace Salsa/Campbell's Soup, Louisiana Crawfish Promotions Board, Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and other hospitals nationwide.

In 2016, Clegg received the top honor from the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society.

“We chose Holly as our honoree in 2016 to receive the ‘Mama’ Marino Lifetime Achievement Award for her many years of countless contributions to the food industry,” said Lisa Bourdreaux Loque, past president of the epicurean society. “She will always be a legacy within our organization and a staple of the Baton Rouge culinary community.”

At the Epicurean Society Dinner, the chefs prepared the six-course menu using recipes from Clegg’s various cookbooks — which she called the ultimate compliment.

"It was truly one of my most memorable times," she told The Advocate about receiving the award.

Clegg loved it when others shared their tales of preparing her recipes. That's how four decades ago she met Louann Bombet, a member of a close-knit group of friends who called themselves Team Holly.

“I met Holly 40 years ago … she was collecting recipes for a cookbook that was just an idea at that time. I gave her my mother's recipe for hot crab dip, which made it into her first cookbook,” said Bombet.

She added that Clegg had "a way of making everyone she meets feel like they are her best friend.

“She has published so many cookbooks, has had articles in many different magazines and appeared on TV both locally and nationally, but Holly never changed who she was … She was always positive, friendly — the person you see on camera is the real Holly. Her family always comes first."

That sentiment is echoed by Karen Stephens.

“You cannot sum up a best friend in a few words and when your best friend is Holly Clegg — well that’s almost impossible!” said Stephens. “Holly was the strongest, most loving, giving, special person that I know. I wish that I had a tenth of her strength. I love her so much and have learned so much from her over the years. I always told her that she should be writing parenting books."

Clegg is survived by husband Mike Clegg, son Todd Clegg and wife Sana, daughter Haley and husband Eric Nusbaum, daughter Courtney and husband Chad Goldberg, and six grandchildren. Funeral services will be held in Dallas Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. at Sparkman Hillcrest Funeral Home,officiated by Rabbi Andrew Bloom. A private graveside burial service will immediately follow. A memorial service will be held in Baton Rouge Nov. 7, details to follow.

For information on how to contribute to the Holly Clegg Gastric Cancer Research Fund, visit healthycookingblog.com/my-cancer-journey.

Email Pam Bordelon at pbordelon@theadvocate.com.