The Other Critics

Gael Greene: Doesn’t Anyone Care About Craig Claiborne Anymore?

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Speaking of bygone Times critics, Gael Greene’s Fork Play newsletter starts with the line, “I am deeply saddened that Craig Claiborne has been almost forgotten.” She’s shocked that “a certain snobby department store” (meaning Barneys) included Thomas Keller in their foodie-themed windows when “Thomas Keller hadn’t scrambled an egg when Craig’s passion for chili heat dared us to taste salsa, challenged me to brave the snobby Pearl’s and order (from his review I carried with me) all the spicy, gingery, chile-detonated stir fries he loved.”

In the piece, which doesn’t seem to be online, Gael describes how Claiborne took her on a review and struggled over whether he should’ve given the Gaiety Delicatessen three stars (had he given it an extra star just because his bosses liked it?) and how later, when she was hired as New York’s critic, she insisted on following his rules of anonymity and reimbursement. She writes, “It wasn’t just Craig missing from that window. The pioneer innovator of the Quilted Giraffe, Barry Wine, was not there. I didn’t find Larry Forgione or Anne Rozensweig or Elaine. Or me. I didn’t stay around to count the rest. If Craig is in the Salon de Refusés, I guess it’s an honor to join him.”

Actually, Georgeanna Milam Chapman has a theory as to why Claiborne hasn’t been celebrated as much as, say, Julia Child. In her memoir of him, reprinted on the Southern Food Ways Alliance’s website (that organization named its lifetime achievement award after the man), she writes that, “Claiborne’s private nature, inner turmoil, and late-life isolation have ‘served him poorly for posterity’” (among other things, he struggled with alcohol and perhaps depression) and points out that the critic “occasionally made mistakes or took liberties with the truth that serve as reminders that he worked on the cusp of, but not fully within, the new age of food writing: an indisputable, not to mention popular, branch of journalism.” Still, her essay provides plenty to justify its title, “Why Craig Claiborne Matters,” and if you’re unfamiliar with the man Jacques Pepin called “the most important of all food giants,” the 120 pages are definitely worth a read.

Gael Greene: Doesn’t Anyone Care About Craig Claiborne Anymore?