Wednesday, June 17, 2009

craig claiborne: 1920-2000

From Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Primer:
"The second bête noir for the beginning cook is a lack of daring and a fear of failure."

A lack of daring is definitely one bête noir (sort of like a pet peeve) that Craig Claiborne did not suffer from. He was a son of the south who saw the world in the Navy, decided he'd like to be the food editor of The New York Times and enrolled in Swiss hotel school, thanks to the G.I. Bill. In 1957 he took his post at The Times, where he remained until the mid '80s. He was also openly gay in the puritanical post-war U.S., which must have been very difficult. Perhaps that's why he was known for being utterly approachable in spite of his gift for elegance and style--he knew what it meant to be an outsider.

Feast made for laughter by Chef Zarela Martinez.

I learned about Claiborne at a panel given at The New School last week, where food writers discussed what his career meant to their field. I most enjoyed hearing about him from those who knew him.When I say "those who knew him," I mean people like his former colleague Betty Fussell, who once called him "a yokel and a gooney bird" in print and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, whose starry-eyed memory of Claiborne's 60th birthday party appears in this short piece I wrote for Saveur (click.)

But I also mean people like my mom, who knew him only from his columns in The Times. "I trusted him," she told me when we talked on the phone last night.One of the first cookbooks she gave me when I went to college was his Kitchen Primer, a little marigold yellow paperback that's sitting beside me now.

It has many wonderful basic tips, all written in Claiborne's clean classy style. We learn from his advice, but also from his life's example. As he says in the introduction to the Kitchen Primer:

In my opinion, it is harder to cook spaghetti to the proper degree of doneness (most people overcook it) and get it to the table hot than to make a proper soufflé. And have courage. The best of professionals have known (and later cherish) their early disasters.

Find the Saveur piece here: click.
And please, vote for Deanna, if you haven't yet today, here: click. It's working! Her rank is rising.

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