I grew up in the 60’s and food back then was little more than casseroles and canned vegetables. Home cooking meant bulk, not quality and certainly taste wasn’t the first priority. It was a time when food was little more than fuel. Restaurants weren’t much better. Like today’s fast food restaurants, they very often served food that had been frozen or canned; speed and convenience were the key words. As a child I had no idea what fine dining was and certainly not anything ethnic, with the exception of the rare Chinese dinner out.

Family eating dinner out in 1960's

Food was something you made and ate, not something that was celebrated or really enjoyed. But that all changed when the foodie revolution got its start and many say Craig Claiborne was the father of the revolution. The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance is a biography about the man who changed the way home cooks thought about cooking. It’s written by Thomas McNamee, a prolific writer who’s previous book, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, is a national bestseller.  McNamee follows Claiborne from his start in 1957 as the New York Times’ food editor where he shared exotic and exciting cuisine from all over the world with his readers. It was this passion that led to the birth of ethnic restaurants across the US.

It was Claiborne who introduced the US readers to chef’s knives, the Cuisinart, balsamic vinegar, creme fraiche, and even the ever popular salad spinner. Theses things are a part of our everyday life now, but they were unheard of until he began to write about them.

Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.” – Craig Claiborne

The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance  The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance shares many of Claiborne’s achievements, but it also tells his personal tale in great detail.  His issues with alcohol and the trials of living as a gay man in a time when homosexuality was something many kept hidden for fear of retribution.  He was at the top of his game professionally but disconnected from the success.  The book is sad and it reminds me that those who are seemingly rich with rewards and adolation are not always accepting and happy.

His reviews could launch a career and he’s widely credited with giving Julia Child her very first major review – would her book have become as popular without his support? Not likely. He went on to make home cooking into culinary superstars and his own dinner parties were said to be legendary.

With his love for French cuisine, it’s easy to believe that Claiborne hailed from Paris or some other exotic location, but in fact, he was a proper Mississippi gentleman. Sadly his personal life was full of conflict as well as self-doubt. While he lived openly as a gay man he was never capable of finding his true love.

The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance is a great book for a foodie. Even with all the despair and heartache, there’s some fabulous history to be learned.

Book Details:

  • Free Press, May 2012
  • eBook, 352 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1439191514 / ISBN-13: 9781439191514

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