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The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat


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#1 Rail Paul

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 09:26 PM

New book from The Free Press, author is Thomas MacNamee.

The review, by Pete Wells, is interesting on so many levels. The transition from cafe society to a foodie society, the ability to review Chock full of Nuts and La Cote Basque in the same column, etc. I suspect Mr Claiborne would be delighted with many of the things we take for granted, more than a decade after his death.

I was pleased to see the mention of Lucius Beebe. He's a wonderful example of the cafe society which was passing away as Claiborne arrived.

What is most striking, though, are the head-snapping juxtapositions of linen and linoleum. In one column, Claiborne recommended both a Neapolitan pizzeria and the Colony, the hive of society where Sirio Maccioni studied the art of seating arrangements. In another, Claiborne praised the kitchen at La Côte Basque but had more to say about the food at Chock Full o’ Nuts: “There are more than 30 of these first-class establishments in New York. They are neat as a whistle and the sandwiches and pastries are of a high order.”

Readers who questioned whether Claiborne really put such different genres of dining on an equal footing would learn the answer the day he began handing out stars.

In a basement near Battery Park, Jimmy’s Greek American Restaurant prepared moussaka and braised lamb for lunch customers who served themselves by walking right into the kitchen. Claiborne gave the place two stars.

(snip)

Claiborne’s reviews were just one part of that model. He wrote about changing tastes in the White House kitchen, stood by the stove with home cooks who showed him how to prepare tortillas, and reported on the rise of nouvelle cuisine in France. He traveled, most famously to Paris for a $4,000 dinner that he wrote up on the front page, but to more far-flung locales, too.

“I think people were sort of astonished when he did things like he went to Vietnam during the war and sat there within the sound of gunfire, and discovered things like shrimp on a stick,” said Mr. McNamee, Claiborne’s biographer. “He was able to go to Alaska and eat blubber and moose liver and write about it in this strange trance. He seems to take everything in stride. I think this sort of nervelessness helped him bring people around to just trying anything.”

If every meal could be critiqued, even a doughnut at the counter of Chock Full o’ Nuts, then everybody could be a critic. Followed far enough, this road leads to Yelp. But it also leads to thousands of Americans treating each meal not as mere nourishment, and not as a reinforcement of social status, but as a chance to taste something new and wonderful.

Influential as he became, Claiborne seemed not to enjoy his power, or much else about the job. “At times I didn’t give a damn if all the restaurants in Manhattan were shoved into the East River and perished,” he wrote in his memoir. “Toward the end of my days as restaurant critic, I found myself increasingly indulging in drink, the better to endure another evening of dining out.”


Craig Claiborne

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#2 Sneakeater

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 09:42 PM

Of course, to give out stars that way, you have to be Craig Claiborne.
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#3 foodie52

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 12:09 AM

Thanks for this. Just bought it for my Kindle. Great travel reading.
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#4 FoodDabbler

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 12:15 AM

America seems to have a steady supply of people who change the way she eats --
Julia Child, Craig Claiborne -- without, in fact, changing the way she eats.

#5 Rail Paul

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 12:36 AM

America seems to have a steady supply of people who change the way she eats --
Julia Child, Craig Claiborne -- without, in fact, changing the way she eats.


I'd suggest that Tom Carvel, Ray Kroc, and Don Tyson probably changed the way America eats, at least more than Julia and Alice Waters, etc.

Carvel - developing a viable structure for food franchising, royalties, and oversight
Kroc - for building out the McDonald's expansion on those principles
Tyson - for figuring out the factory farm model and applying it to chicken, thereby dropping its cost by 90%

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#6 Wilfrid

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 02:43 PM

Reviewed here. Sounds interesting.

#7 Suzanne F

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 02:57 PM

I'm halfway through it (mid-1974; he's about to return to the Times).

So far, it's okay, workmanlike. It is mostly just a standard biography giving the details of his life, such as they could be found. The explanation of how he "changed the way we eat" is kind of thin. Maybe there will be more analysis later in the book, but I haven't seen much justification for the title yet. Much more for how Claiborne changed the way newspapers write about food and whom they employ to do so.

If I didn't already own it (comp disclosure: from someone at the publisher), I'd take it out of the library but not buy it.

I don't want to seem obsessed with this, but . . . -- Sneakeater, August 13, 2014

 

notorious stickler -- NY Times
deeply annoying and nitpicking -- Molly O'Neill, One Big Table


#8 foodie52

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:46 PM

I bought it for my Kindle. It's OK. There is a lot of slangy writing and coy references to his sexuality which come across as annoying. And all the squabbling , etc. etc...It could have been better edited. The only thing it DID make me do was to look at the New York Times cookbook (my sister in law in Bangkok has a copy!). It certainly was thorough.

I did find the parts about his early life interesting. Not the bits about his childhood (again, coy references to the role his mother played in his life... why doesn't the author just come out and SAY IT, whatever it is he is implying. Drives me nuts.) But the Navy stuff was interesting.
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#9 Suzanne F

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:45 PM

I guess you haven't gotten very far in it yet. MacNamee does come out (as it were) and say it, quite a few times. But I suspect that in those days one needed to be more circumspect to the general public so a lot was never said out (oops) loud.

And quite a bit is made of his relationship with his mother, at least it seemed like a sufficient amount to me. Including that he didn't go to her funeral (a Southern sacrilege, we are told).

I don't want to seem obsessed with this, but . . . -- Sneakeater, August 13, 2014

 

notorious stickler -- NY Times
deeply annoying and nitpicking -- Molly O'Neill, One Big Table


#10 foodie52

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 11:36 AM

I read the whole thing.

Maybe it's me, but I grew weary of the saga after a while.
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#11 Suzanne F

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 08:31 PM

I read the whole thing.

Maybe it's me, but I grew weary of the saga after a while.


I guess we just read differently. But I'm with you on that comment. It's enough to put me off biographies.

I don't want to seem obsessed with this, but . . . -- Sneakeater, August 13, 2014

 

notorious stickler -- NY Times
deeply annoying and nitpicking -- Molly O'Neill, One Big Table


#12 joethefoodie

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 11:52 AM

I don't know that he changed the way we eat. But he certainly changed the way restaurants are (were?) reviewed.

Marta, My Dear

 

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#13 Wilfrid

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 05:07 PM

He came round to my place once and took away all the spoons and forks. Totally changed the way I ate.

#14 Sneakeater

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 05:15 PM

Until I read Craig Claiborne, I thought you were supposed to shove food into your armpit.
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#15 Orik

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Posted 10 September 2012 - 04:44 PM

You should have paid more attention to the part where you're supposed to only order one thing at a time.
I never said that