The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat {guest blogger}

Editors Note: This is such an exciting week for us! On Thursday, the Summer issue of 513{eats} will be released. This means lots of last minute tweaking, link testing, etc. So, in order to bring you a quality blog post while Gina and I are otherwise occupied getting the magazine ready, we’ve brought out the big guns in our stead. One of our very favorite gentlemen, Colonel De Stewart has been doing a bit of reading, and he graciously offered to share his insight with us. Enjoy!  {Ilene}

The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat   -by Thomas McNamee

 Reviewed by Colonel De Stewart

If you consider yourself a foodie, watch Food Network or Cooking Channel, and recognize the cooks and chefs that you see there as stars, or if you’ve ever read a review of a restaurant in the paper, Yelp, or maybe right here at 513{eats}, then you owe a good bit of gratitude to Craig Claiborne, because he truly is the man who changed the way we eat. For those who don’t recognize the name, Craig Claiborne was the food and restaurant critic for the New York Times from the mid 1950’s to the late 1980’s. He virtually invented the restaurant review. Before Craig, little was said about a restaurant in the paper other than the fact that it had opened or expanded. Nothing was ever written about the food, and if there was a mention, it would be in glowing prose and very general. The chef was never mentioned.

When Craig Claiborne took over the food section of the New York Times, it was known in the community as the women’s section. This was a time when most restaurants were using ingredients like Fluffo, heavily MSG dosed sauces from a can-ditto vegetables. The American dining scene was abysmal. Home cooking was Jell-O surprise, meat (over cooked), potatoes, and vegetables that were cooked to mush. Spices of the day consisted of salt, pepper, and lard. Into this food abyss strode the soft spoken, slight man from Mississippi who would change this scenario forever.

With the integrity of the Times behind him, Claiborne began to hold restaurants accountable for the quality of the food they served. He championed freshness (local) and seasonal foods as the most important cause for an ingredient to be included in a dish. Claiborne was a devotee of Fine French cooking and went out of his way to promote the best that America and the world had to offer. But he didn’t stop there. Before his retirement Claiborne had circled the globe reveling and rejoicing in the fine food that could be found anywhere in the world, if one would just look.

This book also, with much honesty and angst, shows the ultimate self-destruction of this great man. We take this painful journey with him, all the time shaking our heads and mentally shouting no, no, no! Alas, eating as well as he did, along with his penchant for excess salt combined with more than copious amounts of alcohol eventually exacted its toll. There would be glass after glass of salt crusted
Margaritas used like a starter for a meal. Every course had its own wine, selected for its appropriateness to the food. Of course there were ports and aperitifs with dessert, then finally Stingers to round out the evening. This was not only for special occasions, this was most night’s ritual. Combine the excesses with your only exercise consisting of hailing a cab, and you will soon find yourself in physical trouble, as Mr. Claiborne did. Years of denial and refusing medical care exacerbated an already bad situation.

From Craig Claiborne’s finest hours to his lowest moments, it is all chronicled with respect and compassion in this book. A note of caution however; I pride myself on my vocabulary, but I found after the first three chapters that I had reached for my dictionary over twenty times. It seems Mr. McNamee didn’t sleep through a single English Lit class.

To all of my chef, cook, and foodie friends I recommend this as a must read.

Colonel De Stewart is the owner/proprietor of  Colonel De Gourmet Herbs and Spices


Craig Claiborne, on the right, and his partner, Pierre Franey.

{stock photo}

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