Willetta Warberg

"Curiosity and creativity have always been my guideposts. I have had a number of careers—from concert pianist to advertising executive—but in everything I did, I always strove to learn and to create. It doesn't matter if it's interpreting a Beethoven sonata, or styling food for the camera, or designing the packaging for a product, or figuring out the best way to promote a new food. Curiosity and creativity keep one interested…and interesting."

—Willetta Warberg

Willetta Warberg (Bar-Illan) was born on June 2, 1932. The name of her birthplace was Twin Falls, Idaho. She has a twin brother William. Twenty-one months after those twins were born, her twin sisters Sara Lee and Zoe Ann arrived. Willetta's parents George and Ethel used to announce to every person they met "We're so glad we didn't settle down in Thousand Springs!"

Education and family

Warberg studied piano privately with Madame Teala Bellini (1898-1981) in Twin Falls, Idaho, and with Rudolf Firkušný in Aspen, Colorado and New York City. She attended Colorado Women's College, and went on to receive a BS from the Mannes College New School of Music in New York City in 1954. She married Israeli-born pianist David Bar-Illan (1930-2003) on Sept. 3, 1954, and had two children, Daniela and Jeremy Oscar. (See Family Photos)

Musical Career

Piano at a Young Age
Willetta gave her first concert at the age of eight.

Warberg started playing piano at the age of four, giving her first performance at the age of eight. By the time she was fourteen she had given over thirty recitals throughout the Northwestern United States. At the age of sixteen she won the Intermountain Parade Talent Hunt playing Manuel de Falla's difficult Ritual Fire Dance. As a teenager she became a student of Rudolf Firkušný, a Czech-born pianist who had studied with Leoš Janáček, Josef Suk, and Artur Schnabel. He encouraged her to pursue her piano studies, and she moved to New York City as his protégé. She won a full scholarship to Mannes College New School of Music in New York from a field of two-hundred and fifty music students from around the country and abroad. While at Mannes, she performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Mannes Symphony Orchestra, and gave a recital of Chopin music. She received a BS in piano performance from the college.

Getting Flowers
Willetta Warberg, age 22, accepting flowers from conductor Maurice Abravanel after performing Cesar Franck's Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, 1954.

On March 18, 1954, at the age of twenty-two and while she was studying at Mannes, Willetta Warberg was invited by conductor Maurice Abravanel to travel back to her hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho and play with the Utah Symphony, an eighty-piece orchestra. She performed Cesar Franck's technically challenging Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, with Abravanel conducting.

While studying at Mannes, she met and married fellow pianist David Bar-Illan. After getting married she worked full-time doing photographic food styling, advertising, and writing, and spent evenings  promoting her husband in his musical career. She sent clippings about his performances to music organizations, newspapers, and other media, giving him name recognition around the world. She became well-known in musical circles, and knew many prominent musicians well, including Leonard Bernstein, who was a lifelong friend, and who gave the Bar-Illans use of his country cabin one summer. Willetta and David Bar-Illan traveled widely on tour in many countries in Europe and South America, as well as in Israel. Andre Mertens, a world-renowned impresario and Vice President of Columbia Artists, was David’s agent. He remarked that he had no trouble booking David anywhere, since Willetta had already given him name recognition.

Andre Mertens

Clara Mertens, David Bar-Illan, Willetta Bar-Illan, and David’s agent, André Mertens, backstage at Carnegie Hall after one of David’s concerts in 19xx. Clara Mertens later donated her husband’s instrument collection to the Metropolitan Museum, creating the André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments.

One     Two    Three
While attending Mannes College of Music in New York City, Warberg was invited to be the guest artist with the Utah Symphony, under the direction of Maurice Abravanel. This is the program for that concert, which included the difficult Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra by Cesar Franck. Warberg was twenty-two.

When she returned to Idaho after her successful career in the publishing world in New York City, she joined the faculty of the Renaissance Academy for the Arts in Twin Falls, Idaho (1984), and within a year had forty-four piano students there and in her home.

In 1991, Warberg moved to Woodstock, NY from Idaho to help operate and manage her daughter's restaurant. Warberg also became the restaurant's baker and pastry chef. She established the Warberg Studios to teach piano performance. Each year, she produced a program of performances by her students. On many of these occasions, these programs also included students of other music teachers, including soprano and voice teacher Danielle Woerner. Warberg has also been an Artist-in-Residence of the Holy Cross Concert Series in Kingston, NY since 1994.

W j Starer

After settling in Woodstock, NY, Willetta Warberg renewed her friendship with composer Robert Starer, and the two became the Warberg-Starer Piano Duo. They concertized from 1991 until Starer's death in 2000. He dedicated several pieces to her, including one for the right hand alone, written after she injured her left arm.

W R Starer Flyer

She reconnected with her old friend Robert Starer and they began performing together as a piano duo. Warberg and Robert Starer had met years earlier when her then husband, pianist David Bar-Illan, recommended Starer to a friend at CBS who was looking for a composer to write background music. Starer later asked David Bar-Illan to premiere his Piano Concerto No. 2 with the New York Philharmonic under Dmitri Mitropoulos. Mitropoulos and his assistant, Trudy Goth, were frequent dinner guests with the Bar-Illans in New York City. When Willetta Warberg moved to Woodstock in 1991, she dropped Starer a note. They began a musical partnership and performed as a duo up until Starer's death in 2000. Starer dedicated several pieces to Warberg, including "Prelude for the Right Hand," written after she broke her left arm. Warberg premiered that piece at the Maverick Concert Hall. Also dedicated to Warberg was Starer's composition "Mountaincalls," which was published in the March/April 1995 issue of  Keyboard Classics & Piano Stylist magazine.

[Text from poster on right: "Starer and Warberg are considerable musicians and they offered some major-league insight in their playing." Woodstock Times " . . . rich-textured, deeply expressive music that had something to say, and sold it with fervor, originality and conviction." New York Times "Robert Starer’s Sonata is most impressive – rigorous, compact, and rather intense, inventive with memorable figurations and textures. It reminds the listener how much more orchestral and complex the two-piano medium is than its solo sister." American Record Guide]

Food Writer, Editor, and Photographic Stylist

At the age of twenty-four (1956), Warberg became the Associate Food Editor for Look magazine. William Hollingsworth Attwood, later an advisor to

Food Editor
As Food Editor of Ladies Home Journal, Warberg worked with major chefs, including James Beard

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.

   Photo Cover                              Back Cover                          Back Cover
The photographer gets the credit for taking a beautiful picture of food, but without the photographic stylist, there is no beautiful food to take a picture of. Warberg arranged this plate of hors d'oeuvres (left) for the cover of Applied Photography International Number 5, The international Publication of Professional Photography, © Kodak, 1968. Her stylings were also seen in the photographs on the back cover (knockwurst and potatoes, center) and the inside front cover (paella and assorted breads, right) of this issue. In Willetta's words: "My job was to make the food ultra-photogenic." The photographer was Elbert Budin. Click on the images to see larger versions.

Science Digest

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).

Advertising, Promotion, and Public Relations

Willeta Enterprises

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.).

FFG Cooking with Kandy Korn

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.

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar Snap Peas
The sugar snap pea was an unknown vegetable when it was introduced by the Gallatin Valley Seed Company in 1979. Warberg's successful promotional campaign included a cookbook (above, left) and the cover article for Family Food Garden magazine in January, 1979 (right). Today, sugar snap peas are found in every supermarket.


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.


Dannon Yogurt


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.

[Photo on right: This was the invitation Willetta Enterprises sent out for a Dannon Yogurt ski lodge party in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho in 1978. Guests, including Olympic champions, media representatives, and food industry executives, arrived by cross-country skis, and dined on a feast of gourmet dishes featuring Dannon Yogurt, with original recipes by Willetta.]


Israeli Restaurant Study


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.

Plane to Israel

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.

B&W Drawing
Black and White portrait of Willetta Bar-Illan (late 1950s) by Polly van Leer (1893-1974), a Dutch artist, philanthropist, and founder of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. On their European trips, Willetta and David often visited her in her home outside Versailles.

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.

Hospital Study

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.

Menu Bar

Page One

Education and family
Musical Career
Food Writer, Editor, and Photographic Stylist
Advertising, Promotion, and Public Relations
Sugar Snap Peas
Dannon Yogurt
Israeli Restaurant Study
Hospital Study

Page Two

Other Careers
Volunteer and Leisure-time Activities
Volunteer activities
Books by Willetta Warberg
Research Reports by Willetta Warberg (Willetta Bar-Illan)
Weekly columns by Willetta Warberg
Articles by Willetta Warberg (Willetta Bar-Illan)
Articles about Willetta Warberg (Willetta Bar-Illan)
Piano Performances and Productions by Willetta Warberg
Other Sites of Interest

Family Photographs

Website researched, compiled, written, and edited by Miriam Villchur Berg with Willetta Warberg. 
All written material copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. Site by Judy Sullivan.