“How could you not love a woman who liberates us from the tyranny of conventional wisdom?” her longtime editor, Ann Bramson, said in a telephone interview.
“I remember balking at a verb choice in one of her books — she had us ‘slick’ the vegetable with oil,” Ms. Bramson added. “I pictured the Exxon Valdez. But she was right. Slick — it’s so vivid and visual and immediate. Who wouldn’t love such precision and decisiveness in word choice?”
An only child, Barbara Joan Poses was born in Manhattan on Aug. 2, 1933. Her mother, Lillian (Shapiro) Poses, among the first women to graduate from New York University Law School, worked for several New Deal agencies in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Her father, Jack I. Poses, was founder and president of the fragrance manufacturer Parfums D’Orsay, a founder of Brandeis University and a vice chairman of the New York City Board of Higher Education. Both parents were also philanthropists.
Because her mother was often out of town doing legal work, Barbara was frequently her father’s date for dinner at Manhattan restaurants. When she was a little girl, she recalled in 1991 in The Times, “a sophisticated older woman” took her to lunch at the Ritz-Carlton.
“Too awed to order by myself, I accepted suggestions of foods of which I had never heard,” she said. The first to arrive was a two-handled cup of cold, ivory-colored liquid velvet, topped with specks of jade green. It was vichyssoise, and I fell in love.”
After graduating from the Dalton School in Manhattan, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Radcliffe, harboring ambitions of being a poet. She married Ernest Kafka, whom she had met as a college student. When he went to medical school in St. Louis, she edited medical journals there. (“It was wonderful training for being a cookbook person, because you have to be very exact or somebody’s going to die,” she told The Daily Beast in 2010.)
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughter; a son, Michael; and two grandchildren.
Returning to New York, Ms. Kafka became an editor at Mademoiselle, whose top editor, Leo Lerman, suggested that she apply for a writing job by contacting Allene Talmey at Vogue.