Barbara Rader Punch, whose restaurant reviews guided a generation of Newsday readers, died on Sunday in upstate Rochester after a brief illness. She was 86 years old.
Rader was Newsday’s first restaurant critic and a former food editor. Her reviews, which used a rating system of one to four chefs’ hats, or toques, appeared in Newsday’s Sunday magazine, and on countless restaurant windows.
Rader left the newspaper in 1982. Two collections of her writings were published, “Dining Out on Long Island” (1979) and “Restaurant & Food Guide for Long Island & Vicinity” (1982).
“She built quite a following and became a well-known personality around the Island,” said Anthony E. Insolia, a former editor of Newsday. “She knew what she was talking about.”
Daughter Amy Rader-Sabina, a photographer in Falmouth, Massachusetts, said, “She was a driven woman, a career woman. . . . Everyone knew she was going to succeed.”
Born Barbara Brown in Falmouth on Cape Cod, she was editor of her high school newspaper and studied journalism at Boston University. She worked for about two years as a reporter at Women’s Wear Daily and later at The Paramus (New Jersey) Post before joining The Record in Hackensack, where she was assistant Weekend magazine editor and food editor for seven years.
Rader was hired by Newsday in 1965. In addition to restaurant reviews and editing, she initially wrote features in what was then known as the women’s department.
Her first was about one of the Dionne quintuplets visiting New York. Rader’s food writing included profiles of chefs, recipes, dining on a tugboat, food at the governor’s mansion, artificial sweeteners, Moroccan cuisine, interviews with Julia Child and Kennedy White House chef Rene Verdon, Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s wedding cake, and a magazine piece headlined “How a Food Editor Lost Weight.”
It began, “The fact is that I realized I was getting a potbelly. . . . I also was getting pot hips, pot legs, and my cheeks were developing their own little pots.”
Rader added, “What happened was that shortly after I was born, I discovered that food was delicious.” After trying diets, weight-loss programs and focusing on everything consumed, she wrote, “I’ve learned to control my eating. It’s a great feeling.”
Colleagues recalled that Rader would say, “A food writer should have in his or her obituary their favorite recipe.” Her last article in Newsday contained one for chocolate roses, made with semisweet chocolate and light corn syrup, molded by hand.
Her marriage to William H. Rader ended in divorce. She married Thomas Punch in 1979. They resided in Florida until Punch’s death in 2014.
In addition to Amy Rader-Sabina, she is survived by daughter Nancy R. Dhurjaty of Rochester; stepchildren Thomas J. Punch of Rice, Virginia, Kevin Punch of Kapolei, Hawaii, Carol Manuwa of Honolulu, Michael Punch of Leesburg, Virginia, Jean Conkey Dulac of Mendon, Massachusetts, and Richard C. Punch of Naples, Florida; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandsons.
The burial and service will be private. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, P.O. Box 515, Northampton, MA 01061; macular.org