President John F. Kennedy and the US Representative to the United Nations, was one of her mentors at the magazine. Another important mentor was Hubert Pryor, editor of Modern Maturity magazine (now renamed AARP The Magazine). Pryor had been a journalist for the United Press wire service, the New York Herald Tribune, and CBS, covering South America and later the United Nations. Bar-Illan continued to work with Pryor when he became Senior Editor of Look magazine and then Editor of Science Digest.
She became skilled at artfully arranging food for photographing. Her job entailed preparing the food; deciding on, gathering, and arranging the props; and writing descriptions of and recipes for the food. Her own description of her job as food stylist was that she made food "ultra photogenic for the camera." During this period she worked with major photographers and advertising agencies. In 1961, she worked as the Food Editor for Status magazine and Photographic Stylist for Gourmet: The Magazine of Good Living. In that capacity, she was responsible for food styling for the covers of Gourmet from 1961 to 1964. In 1963 she was named Food Editor for the Ladies Home Journal, a position she held until 1966.
From 1965 to 1975, she worked as a freelance writer, nutritionist, publicist, food consultant, and photographic food stylist. Her projects included Mary and Vincent Price's renowned Treasury of Great Recipes, consulting, styling, and writing food and science articles for Cosmopolitan, Modern Maturity, Esquire, Redbook, McCall's, Bride's Magazine, Bon Appétit, Food & Garden, American Home, Glamour, Readers' Digest, et al. She wrote a series of one or two page features for Cosmopolitan offering food or beverage ideas for two people, each accompanied by recipes, photographs of the food, and a photograph of a couple.
Her article for Science Digest, "Dinner in 90 Seconds: What the food revolution will do to your kitchen" made uncannily accurate predictions about food preparation as it would be in the future, including freeze-dried foods, boil-in bags, and the future popularity of microwave ovens. She developed recipes for the Tavern on the Green, the Four Seasons, and the Forum of the Twelve Caesars in New York City. During this time she authored two cookbooks: Cooking from Scratch: A Single Man's Guide to Making Out in the Kitchen (Ballantine Books, 1976), and Space-Age Cookery: the complete handbook of food processing (Pinnacle Books, 1976).
After twenty-eight years working in the publishing world in New York City, Warberg returned to her hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho in 1976 and began a successful career as an advertising executive. She opened Willetta Enterprises, doing market research; planning and implementing market campaigns; and writing reports for clients that included major advertising agencies, magazines, food manufacturing and processing corporations, packaging companies, and book publishers. Her corporate clients included Lipton, Knorr, General Mills, Coke, Tab, Pepsi, Kellogg's, Stouffer's, Campbell's Soup, Bounty, Ocean Spray, Morton Salt, Jack Frost Sugar, Green Giant, Howard Johnsons, Horn & Hardart, Libby's, Heinz Foods, Nestlé's, Sweet'n Low, Holland House, Post Cereals, Corning Glass Works, Carling, Dole, and Del Monte. Consultation services included recipe development, food promotion, food writing, editorial consultation, food research, photographic styling for still and television camera, and packaging development.
Her company worked with ad agencies such as McCann Erickson, Jay Walter Thompson, Benton & Bowles, Leo Burnett, Grey Advertising, Ogilvy & Mather, Compton, Young & Rubicam, and AV Corp. She designed packaging for Lipton instant soups and Corning glass casserole dishes, among others. She wrote many pamphlets on specific foods as promotions for food companies, including Dannon Yogurt (see below), Kandy Korn, Musser Seed Company (a new hybrid corn for which Warberg wrote an eighty-page cookbook), and many other food products. Her company was given the job of promoting the new food product known as the Sugar Snap Pea (See below.).
Working with Doug Ness, Founder and President of Ness, LLC, Warberg promoted Jerusalem artichokes, renaming them Sun Roots. She invented many recipes for them, which were published in a pamphlet. She had gotten to know chef Julia Child from the gourmet cooking world, and received a letter from Child thanking Warberg for reintroducing her to the vegetable.
As a client of the George W. Park Seed Co., Warberg also promoted kuta squash, a versatile vegetable that could be harvested early as a summer squash or later as a hard-shelled winter squash. She wrote an article about the vegetable's unique characteristics which became a cover story for the February, 1981 issue of Family Food Garden magazine.
During this time she wrote a nationally syndicated food column, Home-Town Market Basket (1978-1987). She also served as Food, Music, and Art Editor for the Twin Falls, Idaho Times News from 1978 to1987 and wrote a column for that newspaper entitled "Willetta Says." In these local and national columns she wrote articles on seasonal foods, local foods, natural foods, and other topics that, while commonplace today, were innovative for the time period. For example, she encouraged readers to look for and pick wild asparagus in the spring, and to make their own baby food instead of buying it in jars.
Warberg was given the task of introducing a new variety of pea by the Gallatin Seed company in 1980. The snap pea had an edible pod, like the snow pea, but was fuller and juicier. She hosted a champagne reception at New York's Four Seasons restaurant which was attended by food executives, food critics, restaurateurs, and other dignitaries from around the US. The Four Seasons restaurant became the first restaurant to put sugar snaps on the menu. Warberg wrote promotional flyers, brochures, and a cookbook describing uses of the snap pea. Knowing that the snap pea would sell itself if people would taste it, she packaged samples of the peas with informational literature and handed them out to people. She tried to get a bag of sugar snap peas on the desk of the United States President, but had to settle for distributing them to every US Senator. The national campaign was very successful, and the sugar snap pea is now a popular snack and salad vegetable found in every supermarket. She also marketed a jarred version of her own recipe for snap peas in vinegar marinade called Idaho Sugar Snap Peas which was highly successful as a cocktail snack.
In the 1950s and 1960s, yogurt was considered a food only eaten by health-food fanatics. Warberg's promotional campaign helped make it a mainstream supermarket food item. Juan Metzger, a partner and later head of Dannon Yogurt in the US, brought yogurt to Look magazine in 1956, and Willetta Bar-Illan wrote a short "Item of Interest" feature on the new food for Look. Metzger, who became a lifelong friend of Willetta's, is credited with the idea of putting fruit in the bottom of yogurt containers. He also created the "In Soviet Georgia" ad campaign showing Russians in their nineties eating yogurt. The campaign was highly acclaimed, and is still considered one of the best television ads in history. In 1976, Warberg started working directly for Dannon as a food consultant and recipe developer, and was named Director of Public Relations for them in the Northwestern United States.
One of the events she produced for Dannon was a reception in a ski lodge in the mountains of Idaho in January, 1978. The Sun Valley Nordic Ski Touring-in Cabin Party took place at Warberg's family ski retreat in the Sawtooth Mountains, Longhorn Lodge. In addition to Juan Metzger (who was by then President of Dannon and Vice President of Beatrice Foods, guests included other top Dannon executives and prominent Sun Valley skiers, including Lief Odmark, known as "Mr. Sun Valley," who had been a member of the Swedish national cross-country and jumping ski teams in his homeland, and coached the US Olympic cross-country team in 1952. Also in attendance was Dick Fosbury, the Olympic Gold Medal high jumper who revolutionized high jumping when he invented the "Fosbury Flop," the now-universal technique of twisting the body and going over the bar on one's back. Another Olympic Gold Medalist, Gretchen Fraser (the first American to win a Gold Medal for skiing) also attended. Representatives of all the major media were present. All of the guests traveled two and a half miles by cross-country skis to the beautiful lodge. There they enjoyed a buffet of gourmet foods prepared using Warberg's recipes, including Idaho trout with yogurt sauce, baked Idaho ham, Idaho potatoes with yogurt topping and a variety of sprinkles, Idaho wine, and chilled fruit yogurts served with macaroons from a local gourmet pastry shop.
In 1960, Willetta Warberg was commissioned by the US State Department to spend several weeks in Israel assessing the restaurants in Israel. Her detailed report helped the young country improve its desirability as a tourist destination.
Willetta Bar-Illan (née Warberg) traveled to Israel in 1960 for the United States Department of State to help the newly formed country develop a national cuisine. She was good friends with the owners of the Tavern on the Green in Central Park in New York City, and Arthur Schleifer gave her a run-through of restaurant operation before she embarked on the tour of Israeli restaurants.
The nation of Israel was founded in 1948. In the early years, the focus of the government and the population was on establishing agriculture, building industry, and ensuring self-defense. The Kibbutz movement, which had begun decades earlier with Russian immigrants escaping the pogroms, grew into a vast network of international pioneers ready and willing to work the land and to live communally. During the 1950s, more than 65,000 people lived and worked on kibbutzim, out of a total national population of around two million. Even those living in towns and cities worked hard and felt themselves part of a dedicated nation-building movement. Although the land was more than fifty percent desert, innovative irrigation and other technologies allowed agriculture to flourish.
In 1960, the Government of Israel decided to work towards making tourism a viable industry. The Israel Government Tourist Corporation (now the Israel Ministry of Tourism) approached the US International Cooperation Administration (now the US Agency for International Development, or USAID), and Willetta Bar-Illan was hired as a member of the Survey Team for the Study of Tourism in Israel. She had already spent time in Israel in 1955 and 1959 with her husband, pianist David Bar-Illan. Her task for this project was to spend five weeks in Israel in order to assess the current state of tourism and to make detailed recommendations. What she found was a nation where restaurants were often thought of as merely a place to get nourishment during or after a long day of hard work. Although there was already a small tourist industry, few restaurants, even those in the major hotels, came up to international standards of what tourists expected. One important finding of Bar-Illan's survey was that local foods, supplies, and restaurant equipment were available but were not being utilized.
In her report, Bar-Illan said, "Since the restaurants that cater to tourists are directly responsible for the expenditure of foreign currency in the country, there is no reason why the Israeli Government should not consider them an export industry and afford them concessions [such as discounts on loans and utilities]." [Footnote to Research report "1960 Study of Restaurants…p. 56] She recommended that the Tourist Corporation work with tour guide companies to get them to insist on better quality food. She also made recommendations for a national system of education for the restaurant industry, including a professional high school, a hotel/restaurant academy, and a library.
Noting that tourists in Jerusalem said there was nowhere to go in the evenings, she advised the restaurants to hire musicians playing local instruments and dancers in characteristic dress. To cater to the American tourist, she recommended that American-Jewish deli restaurants be established. Roadside restaurants, she said, should serve lighter fare, including fresh vegetables and fruits, and should emphasize the Biblical significance of their locations through their restaurant names and the names they give to foods on their menus.
The Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel held a week-long inaugural celebration for their new hotel in March of 1961, with a menu inspired by the suggestions Willetta Bar-Illan had given them. In accordance with her recommendations, items on the menu were given Hebrew names (transliterated into English letters), and each item was described. On the cocktail buffet were Matamai Milon (Anchovy-ringed melon balls) and Falafel (Chickpea croquettes) with Tahina (Spicy sesame seed sauce). Entrees included Dag-Banana Bishkedeem (Fish with bananas and almonds in sherry sauce) and Orez Botneem (Spicy peanut rice). In place of the former canned fruits, guests were offered desserts such as Glidah Avocado (Avocado-lime ice) and Ugah D'Vash (Honey cake).
Although much of the report was confidential, the Israeli press gave Bar-Illan's project an enthusiastic response. Headlines included: "Time to Create an Israeli Cuisine"; "Kosher Food Can Be Made Tasty"; "What is Israeli Cooking?"; and ."Seeking a National Dish." The Jerusalem Post gave a sample of a breakfast of local Israeli foods, including herring, smoked fish, eggs, olives, and tomatoes. The New York Times, writing before Willetta Bar-Illan left for Israel, quoted her as saying "Tourism could become a vital part of the country's economy."
Over the following decades, as her ideas were implemented and more attention was paid to the benefits of tourism, Israel became a major tourist destination. In 2008, over three million tourists visited the country, of which 34% were Jewish and 58% were Christian. Extensive surveys showed that tourists gave high marks to Israeli restaurants, cleanliness, and the public attitude of Israelis towards tourists.
In 1982, Willetta Enterprises was engaged to do a feasibility study of the possible acquisition of a local hospital by a national hospital corporation. The report gave careful analysis of the financial issues, including projected population growth as compared with necessary modernization of equipment, services, and facilities. Warberg identified critical issues, including the fact that local hospital management, doctors, and staff were skeptical about the national organization's management abilities. Several long-time nurses had been fired without explanation, creating bad feelings. Doctors had come to the nurses' defense. The national firm seemed to be making unilateral decisions without realizing the ill will it was creating in the community. Warberg's study pointed out the importance of building community support.
Warberg's Twin Falls upbringing gave her a significant edge in relating to and assessing the community. She had gone to school with community leaders; she had twenty-eight years of public relations experience back east; and since she had moved back to Idaho, she had become acquainted, or reacquainted, with everyone important in town. Her report was filled with invaluable inside information, including a list of one hundred influential area residents, as well as their family and social relationships (e. g., a well-known lawyer who was also a major stock holder in his cousin's bank; a Mormon doctor who didn't adhere strictly to all Mormon lifestyle principles but nevertheless had excellent contacts within the Mormon community; and several local clergy members who were most likely to be included in social gatherings). Warberg put herself on the list of influential people in the community: "I happen to be part of the social network because of my pioneer stock in the area and my past and present careers, plus my weekly newspaper column and my contact with the local and national media. I guess I'm sort of considered a celebrity here. I'm very opinionated, as you know."
As a result of Warberg's study, community leaders were brought into the process, and the transfer of management was accomplished successfully and smoothly.
Education and family