Former Sun-Times food and photo stylist
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 1, 2012 9:08PM
Food stylist (and model in this photo) Lezli Bitterman (now Lezli Roberts) in a food section cover photo to illlustrate what to do when your lawn party gets rained out. photo by Jim Frost.
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:03AM
Lezli Roberts could expertly maneuver her Harley on North Carolina’s famed “Tail of the Dragon,” a road with 318 curves in 11 miles. She could step into her closet, and produce an outfit fit for tea with a queen. It didn’t matter if she was wearing biker boots, or a flirty 1930s “Fascinator” hat.
She had style.
She was a skilled antiquer, gourmet cook and furniture medic. She welded lamps, knitted gorgeously colored clothing, and crafted eye-catching jewelry out of objects found at flea markets and garage sales, or even, on the
street. She could tie up her Titian red hair in a 1940s men’s tie and look adorable. She often bicycled from Evanston to downtown Chicago--even in the meat locker that is February. She was a certified aerobics teacher and
motorcycle safety instructor. (Her Harley license plate said “SHEHOG.”)
Her 40th birthday present to herself was a skydive over Las Vegas.
Mrs. Roberts, who worked as a food and photo stylist at the Chicago Sun-Times, where she edited the “Swap Shop” recipe column under her maiden name, Lezli Bitterman, died May 23 at Evanston Hospital after a two-year battle with inflammatory breast cancer. She was 53.
She could make a Sun-Times story on strawberries pop with a mouth watering photo. She’d engage in hours of shopping, eliminating and arranging to get the perfect, blemish-free batch of berries.
Mrs. Roberts also styled Sun-Times fashion spreads shot in Jamaica and the Bahamas. She’d do anything to make the pictorials look smashing, from putting together the jewelry and shoes, to steaming wrinkles out of clothing.
But sometimes, just when the shutter was about to click, Mrs. Roberts saw that a shot needed a little more oomph. Creative and resourceful, she might pick wildflowers off the road and tuck them behind a model’s ear. Suddenly,
that photo captured carefree perfection.
“It takes a genius to turn a low-budget. . . .food-and-props situation into a stunning photo,” said Bev Bennett, former Sun-Times Food editor. “And that’s what she did, time after time.”
“A lot of people can be organized, but she just had a great aesthetic,” said Lisa Lenoir, former Sun-Times fashion and travel editor. “She was so cool.”
“Lezli had so many talents,” said former Sun-Times fashion editor Lisbeth Levine. And, “She always had the perfect shade of lipstick--it was that exact, perfect shade for her skin, for her hair.”
“She liked to wear vintage clothes, and she could just put together a vintage look that would look fresh,” said former Sun-Times photographer Jim Frost, who collaborated with Mrs. Roberts in their photo styling company, FrostBitt.
Mrs. Roberts grew up in Rogers Park and attended Mather High School. She graduated magna cum laude from Mundelein College with a degree in food and nutrition.
Along the way, she collected anything that tickled her fancy. She had so many pedestal cake stands that her woodworker husband, Jack, built lighted kitchen cabinets deep enough to show off her finds. She liked primitive
paintings from New Orleans, totems, and Hopi pottery.
She used to watch her father, Richard Bitterman, the late jewelry maker and metalsmith, as he crafted his art, asking him how he did it so she could learn.
And she threw parties that were gracious and fun, a skill she learned from her stepmother, Bindy.
“Lezli was such a creative person, always interested in learning how to do something new,” said Sue Ontiveros, deputy features editor at the Sun-Times.
“Outside of work, she was devoted to her family and just crazy in love with her husband, Jack.”
Jack Roberts had been adding a 16-by-24-foot closet-room to their Elgin home to accommodate his wife’s treasures. “She had the ability to step into the closet and pull out the perfect thing for any occasion, horseback riding,
fine dining,” he said. “With her complexion and her hair--and just boldness--it was fascinating to watch.” Often, she wore her tortoiseshell sunglasses.
He met Lezli when he was a single dad, but he said he made a decision to focus on his son, Sean, and not date until he was grown. But on the day his son entered the Air Force, “I dropped him off at the induction center, went
home, changed clothes, and we went on our first date.”
They wed a little over a year later, in 2003.
Mrs. Roberts loved her English Shepherd, Tanner. During her final days of treatment, her husband brought their dog to visit her in the hospital. “He hopped up on the bed with her and curled up,” he said. Mrs. Roberts hugged
Tanner and glowed. Tanner will be at her memorial service at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Piser Chapel, 9200 Skokie Blvd., Skokie.
“This [service] is going to be attended by bikers and knitters, attorneys, and doctors and cowboys, artists, craftsmen and regular workaday Joes,” he said. He also expects to see police and firefighters there, because when
Mrs. Roberts was done testing recipes, she often dropped off her delicious meals and desserts to police stations and firehouses.
She is also survived by her mother, Marianne Goldberg; her sisters, Andryea Natkin, Arden Kruger, and Randy Gass, and her brothers, Adam Bitterman and Robert Goldberg.
Her husband asks other women to educate themselves about inflammatory breast cancer, described by the National Cancer Institute as a rare and aggressive form of the disease.