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Monday, September 17, 2012

FOOD BOOK OF THE MONTH: Craig Claiborne bio (Free Press)

THE MAN WHO CHANGED THE WAY WE EAT; Craig Claiborne and the American
food renaissance (Free Press, 2012; distr. Simon & Schuster, 339 pages,
ISBN 978-1-4391-9150-7, $27 US hard covers) is by Thomas McNamee, who
also wrote "Alice Waters and Chez Panisse". Claiborne was a remarkable
food editor at the powerful New York Times (from 1957) and over time he
managed to change North American attitudes to food, from falsely-made
foreign food and overdone meats to an ethnic European culture that
embraced crème fraiche, arugula, pesto, cilantro, balsamic, and
equipment for the home kitchen such as the Cuisinart, chef's knives,
and salad spinners. He gave Julia Child her first major review,
introduced Bocuse, Troigros, Prudhomme, Edna Lewis, Puck, and Pepin to
the US, and created a demand for Hazan, Jaffrey, Kennedy, and other
writers. He was probably the first "critical" restaurant reviewer in
the US, and was son emulated by hundreds of others. He promoted dinner
parties at home with fine food and wines, great conversation, and
social ease. There's also a good deal of material about his private
life and his gayness, but it is the food stories that are mainly
relevant here. There are end notes and a bibliography (listing all of
Claiborne's books). His first (a large booklet) was for Bloomingdale's
in 1957, followed by the New York Times Cookbook in 1961.
Audience and level of use: gastronomes, food readers.
Some interesting or unusual facts: On page one of the New York Times,
Nov 14, 1975 – "Just a quiet dinner for 2 in Paris: 31 dishes, 9 wines,
a $4000 check" – the famous dinner paid for by AmEx after Claiborne bid
$300 at a charity silent auction. The full account is here.
The downside to this book: lacks a favourite recipe or two. Also, I
wonder what that $4000 dinner would cost today.
The upside to this book: great detail on the ins and outs of the NYC
food scene, well-worth reading.
Quality/Price Rating: 90.

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