Book of the Week/Free Press Book Review 5/8/12

The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance by Thomas McNamee (Free Press, 2012) is the life story of Craig Claiborne, the first food editor of the New York Times, generally considered to be the father of the American food revolution.

In The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat, McNamee explores both what seems to be Claiborne’s public glamorous life, personal troubles away from the gastronomic limelight (particularly during early times when being gay was not socially acceptable at all) of a lonely young man from the rural Mississippi Delta who sought refuge in the kitchens of his mother’s boarding house, being embedded with influences in traditional Southern and Creole cooking. Later, Claiborne attended Lausanne, Switzerland’s leading hotel school, where he trained in classical French Haute cuisine and formal service.

McNamee traces each step on how Craig Claiborne revolutionized the culinary world from overdone roasts, canned green beans, frozen food, and so-called “Continental” cuisine to a new era of exotic cuisines from around the world, creme fraiche, arugula, balsamic vinegar, the Cuisinart, and even professional cookware once only available in restaurant from his first day as the New York Times food editor in 1957.

This was a book I was barely able to put down for long periods of time from the very first chapter. Extensively researched and very well written with a smooth narration, McNamee explores the dynamics of the founding father of food criticism by in-depth studying of Claiborne’s personal papers and penning memories of major players in Claiborne’s life

The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat is not only an engrossing biography and the birth of American food culture as we know it today, but also a brilliant behind-the-scenes look at a revolutionary yet complicated man who remained an enigma even to those who knew him best.

Whether you are a “foodie” or just someone who wants to explore the world of food critics, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat is one of the best chronicles of joys, triumphs, and even personal battles of the man who made a huge impact on a large part of America’s dining culture.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

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