My friend Gael Greene is as sharp as a tack. She will deny this, but I swear that when she asked if I had read The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat, Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance (Simon & Schuster) by Thomas McNamee, she said, “Have you read Craig’s new book?”
For a large circle of people this is “Craig’s new book,” in that it allows us, his many friends and followers, to reconnect with the unique personality and worldview of longtime New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne. Claiborne passed away in 2000.
Gael gave me a paperback copy of The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat—it’s a fun ride from Claiborne’s early years in the Mississippi Delta to his war years in the service to L’Ecole Hoteliere de la Societe Suisse des Hoteliers in Switzerland and back to the States and culinary adventures in Springs with chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin. (Yes, it was Claiborne and Franey who, in 1975, indulged in the much-publicized “$4,000 lunch” in Paris.) McNamee reveals all with empathy, humor and a touch of whimsy. It’s a real tribute to the man and his rich legacy.
What set Claiborne apart as a food writer? He was kind of the first at The Times. He invented the protocol for their restaurant reviews. Before Claiborne, most Americans didn’t think seriously, or critically, about food. Then he gave them THE cookbook, The New York Times Cookbook (Harper & Row, 1961) plus about 20 other food-related books. Much of the credit for the foodie renaissance in 1960s America belongs to Claiborne (but we have to credit his pal Gael Greene with coming up with the term “foodie” in 1980).
Another recent release that holds special promise for East End cooks is Seafood, Spectacular Recipes for Every Season (Skyhorse Publishing) by Pär-Anders Bergqvist and Anders Engvall. These authors are based in Stockholm, but certainly their recipes can be used to prepare our local bounty. In an interview years ago Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson told me that the East End’s seafood can’t be among the best in the world because our waters don’t get cold enough. Poor, poor Samuelsson, I hope he’s had some of our local, delicious seafood and had the pleasure of having his mind changed by now.
Each of the 52 recipes in this book includes a suggestion as to what rock music to play as you prepare it. They had me at week one—Thin Lizzy’s Nightlife. Rock on! I’m normally all about the recipes but I found myself leafing ahead to read the dishes’ names and their suggested musical accompaniment. Then I went back to check out all the recipes and to drink in the gorgeous color photos by Björn Tesch.
Many of the dishes can be prepared in under an hour. Love that. I cook vegan at home for myself, but I could be tempted to prepare the Garlic Fried Shrimp with Avocado Dip or Fried Monkfish with Fennel Ragout, Roasted Peppers, Olives and Garlic Sauce for company. In fact, as soon as my strictly vegan son is off to college, I may just indulge in baking a batch of Pepper Muffins with their two cups of Manchego cheese…
Why 52 recipes? They correspond to the 52 weeks of the year and follow what’s in peak season on the given week. I heart idiot proofing. I have a gardening book that tells me what to do in the garden every week of the year—now, with this cookbook in hand, I’m all set!