Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Review: The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat
Author: Thomas McNamee
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography
Synopsis (from Goodreads): From his first day on the job as the New York Times food critic, Craig Claiborne excited readers by introducing them to food worlds unknown, from initiating them in the standards of the finest French cuisine and the tantalizing joys of the then mostly unknown foods of India, China, Mexico, Spain, to extolling the pleasures of “exotic” ingredients like arugula, and praising “newfangled” tools like the Cuisinart, which once he’d given his stamp of approval became wildly popular. A good review of a restaurant guaranteed a full house for weeks, while a bad review might close a kitchen down. Based on unprecedented access to Claiborne’s personal papers and interviews with a host of food world royalty, including Jacques Pepin, Gael Greene, and Alice Waters, Tom McNamee offers a lively and vivid account of Claiborne’s extraordinary adventure in food, from his own awakening in the bistros of Paris, to his legendary wine-soaked dinner parties, to his travels to colorful locals from Morocco to Saigon, and the infamous $4,000 dinner he shared in Paris with French chef Pierre Franey that made front-page news. More than an engrossing biography, this is the story of the country’s transition from enchantment with frozen TV dinners to a new consciousness of truly good cooking.
My Thoughts: This was a fascinating book. My friends consider me a "foodie", though I don't agree. I love to eat at nice restaurants, try new dishes, and experiment with my cooking club. None of those things however make me a true "foodie". I am just not that knowledgeable. Craig Claiborne was a "foodie", perhaps the first in our country, and he brought a desire for that knowledge to a large percentage of people just like me. I never read one of Claiborne's columns but had I, I would have been one of his devoted followers. Learning about the life and career of such a man was a wonderful discovery for me.
McNamee makes Claiborne come alive. As I was reading the book I found myself making the journey with Claiborne and wishing that I was more than just a voyeur. I wanted to be a part of the lavish dinner parties, on the trips to Europe to explore the newest restaurants, and to have written some of the amazing cookbooks which carry the Claiborn byline.
However, as is true with anyone, Claiborne was not just his public persona. He had an unseen, and for that time period, scandalous personal life. He lived with the same demons a lot of us do and had the same character flaws too. This does not distract from the persona of Claiborne but serves to make him someone that more of us can relate to.
If you are interested in food at all I think that this biography is definitely worth the time to read. I not only learned a lot about the food revolution in America but I was left with a respect for what it took to make it come about, not to mention a compelling need to go out and buy The New York Times Cookbook.