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Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance: The Turbulent Life and Fine Times of the Man Who Changed the Way We Eat

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3.33  ·  Rating Details ·  242 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
In the 1950s, America was a land of overdone roast beef and canned green beans--a gastronomic wasteland. Most restaurants relied on frozen, second-rate ingredients and served bogus "Continental" cuisine. Authentic French, Italian, and Chinese foods were virtually unknown. There was no such thing as food criticism at the time, and no such thing as a restaurant critic. Cooki ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Free Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jason Koivu
Jan 25, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
You get down on your knees right now and thank the heavens above for Craig Claiborne!

Go on, do it!

Why? Because if it weren't for him we'd all be eating at the IHOP. Why is that such a bad thing? The Rooty Tooty Fresh'n'Fruity. But I digress...

In The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat Thomas McNamee lays out Mr. Claiborne's history, from small town, southern boy hanging around his mamma's kitchen to world-traveled food editor for the New York Times. As the first male editor of said newspaper, he tur
...more
Lisa
I was excited when I found I had won this book on first reads, but honestly, if I had just picked it up at the library, I wouldn't have finished it.

To be fair, there were portions of the book that I found interesting, and by the end, I did agree with the author that it appears that Claiborne did have a definite influence on what we eat as a culture. If it was severely edited down to a magazine article in length, I probably would have enjoyed it. I also think it could have done well as a magazin
...more
Debbie
Mar 19, 2012 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 dev ...more
Lauren
Jun 25, 2013 Lauren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to love this book. Craig Claiborne is such a fascinating figure in America's food culture and his story is a unique one, but the terrible writing in this book ruins the entire thing. The author will occasionally chime in with colloquial phrases or cliche phrases (a particularly terrible line quotes "the song by Lola in Damn Yankees" to get his point across that whatever Claiborne wants, Claiborne gets) that immediately remove the reader from the writing. It's like I'm suddenly aw ...more
Louise
(2.5 stars)

The subject-matter was interesting, but the uneven writing was a hurdle. At its best, the writing was readable. At its worst, it was full of name-dropping, long lists, and inconsistent tone. The book followed the general timeline of Claiborne's life, but went off on abrupt tangents.

Most of the book seems to be based on passages from Claiborne's autobiography. It reminded me of the time I had to write a paper about Lincoln in A.P. History and thought it was bullsh*t so I picked the bi
...more
Monica
Jul 20, 2012 Monica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foodstuff, biography
I used to read Craig Claiborne every chance I got - he certainly did change the way I eat. The book is an interesting portrait of a very complex man - the gay misfit from the Mississippi Delta who built himself the life he had always dreamt of, and then drank it all away. He did change the way Americans eat and think about food, broadening our consciousness, introducing a wealth of new ideas, ingredients, recipes. He wrote his way to the top of a field he virtually invented. He was a sometimes a ...more
Beth Roberts
Nov 03, 2013 Beth Roberts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lively writing, marred slightly by the breeziness currently characteristic of non-fiction; mostly charming, but the charm is occasionally shallow. Routinely calling the subject of a biography by his first name is acceptable only when the writer knew the subject personally. Still, a thorough book, especially good on the developments of the last 50 years, using Claiborne as the focus for a broader story.
Ellen Shwatal
Oct 06, 2014 Ellen Shwatal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting insight on the evolution of the food scene (commercial and at home)in the 2nd 1/2 of the 20th Century and how this NYTimes writer was instrumental in this process.

If you're a foodie, you'll appreciate the history lesson.

Sheila
Nov 03, 2015 Sheila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: to anyone
Shelves: listen-to
I love books that explain how a subject evolved. I'm listening to the book and glad I decided to do this because of the french names. The reader is very important, and Mr. Hill does a great job.
Cmeread
Fun facts and great stories throughout this dedication to Craig Claiborne, however not the most gripping story.
Katie
Apr 07, 2012 Katie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway!
Nancy
Aug 05, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this interesting, but not great. However, it took me back to my younger days.
LAPL Reads
Jan 29, 2014 LAPL Reads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Craig Claiborne’s name is not readily, if at all, familiar to foodies or anyone else these days. But he is one of the great godparents of today’s food world. In the late 1950’s he changed and molded our modern ideas and attitudes about food, eating, entertaining and dining out. He found his passion in food and wrote about it, and broke major barriers to do so. Prior to Claiborne’s position as food editor at The New York Times, articles about food, homey little recipes, and maybe a nod or two to ...more
Marsha
This is the story of a remarkable man, an American who rose from poverty to travel abroad, to engage in warfare, to explore his homosexuality in a time when such a thing was a felony that could get you killed if you fell into the wrong hands. He was also a man who was appalled at the lackluster state of American cuisine and became determined to rectify the situation.

This book does more than illuminate Mr. Claiborne’s love for food; it explores what created the person who devoted his life to educ
...more
Sally Hannoush
Sep 14, 2014 Sally Hannoush rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love food and enjoy other aspects of it other than eating and finding recipes. Getting to know the history and people behind the dishes is a great topic and covers a broad span. From the first page, I've already learned more information about food critics and the acknowledgment it was given in the 50's. A trend must start somewhere weather good or bad. It just happens that Craig Claiborne had a lot to do with the food critic aspect. I was very eager to learn more about the "behind the scenes" ...more
Book Him Danno
If you love to eat this is the book for you. I love food, especially good food that is homemade and tasty. Fast-food is not a favorite of mine and store bought items taste store bought and processed. I love making food from scratch and trying different and new recipes all the time. So reading about food that is incredible and expensive makes my mouth water. Yum this book describes Craig Clairborne’s job as a food critic for the New York Times, food is central to this book along with Craig’s life ...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
Craig Claiborne really did change the way we eat, or at least the way many people thought about and prepared food. I really enjoyed reading this book since I have an interest in the great chefs, the food they prepare, and the critics who review their restaurants. In this book, you get plenty of all three since Craig Claiborne was not only a long-time food critic for the New York Times and the author of many fine cookbooks, but he was also close friends with and a partaker of many fabulous feasts ...more
Robert Wright
May 11, 2012 Robert Wright rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: foodies
Despite my love of food, I largely grew to maturity past Claiborne's heyday at The Times. On the periphery of my consciousness, my vague impression was that he was one of those overweening food snobs who could only appreciate fine dining, but looks down their nose a good, simple American fare.

McNamee's biography threw those preconceptions to the curb and paints an engaging picture of a man in the midst of America's transformation from basic meat and potatoes to our embrace of all types of food a
...more
Carole
May 27, 2012 Carole rated it really liked it
Written in a conversational style, something that comes off very well, particularly at the end where McNamee speaks directly to Claiborne himself, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat is highly readable and abounds with tales now legendary in the food world. Craig Claiborne invented the profession of restaurant/food critic, something we now take for granted. In today’s world, we google new restaurants, chefs, previously unknown foods, but back in the day....before arugula, radicchio, balsamic vine ...more
Jed Sorokin-Altmann
I must confess, despite thinking of myself as somewhat of a foodie, I did not know very much about Craig Claiborne until I read Thomas McNamee's book. I'm glad that I did, though! McNamee paints a vivid picture of Claiborne, and he seems like a really interesting individual!

There are points where McNamee seems to go a little too far in his effusive praise of Claiborne's influence and a little too far in dennigrating the work of others, like James Beard. As folks in my profession would put it, M
...more
John
Apr 05, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent and well written (I especially liked its conversational style). It not only gave a cogent account of how Craig Claiborne changed the way we eat, it also described the life and times of the 60's 70's and 80's New York. Especially the era when newspapers actually made decent money, gay people were still in the closet, and one man and newspaper could have literally invented the job of restaurant reviewer. This book accurately honors the incredible legacy that is Craig Claiborne. We may ha ...more
Paula
Jul 29, 2012 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
McNamee's biography about Craig Claiborne tells the story of a complex man and his monumental influence on the culinary world with its revolutionary changes starting in the 1960's. We are introduced to new food trends, both in the United States and France, and the many culinary stars of the time, including those he helped create during his days at the New York Times. Claiborne's Mississippi heritage and his troubled relationship with his mother, his sexual preferences and choice of partners, and ...more
Anne Mccune
Jan 02, 2014 Anne Mccune rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Craig Claiborne certainly made his mark on the way America and the world has regarded eating in America. He was in the right place at the right time and wouldn't have made such a strong impression on our culinary habits without a lot of happenstance. His growing up observing the preparation of food in his mother's boarding home, his stint in the Navy, and his enrollment in the Swiss Culinary school all were instrumental in preparing him for his life work reporting on food. My regret is that perh ...more
Gochrisgo
Craig Claiborne was a complex and compartmentalized man. After reading his odd memoir, I found this biography a good companion. This story captures the struggles gay people faced -- even in recent times, even in New York City.

It is odd to me that this book doesn't offer more assessment of Craig's cooking skill. We never read about Craig actually holding a chef's knife or whisk. While there were many, many menus detailed, there were no details of his two kitchens in the Hamptons. I wanted to see
...more
theresa
May 11, 2012 theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
the title says it all: the turbulent life and fine times of the man who changed the way we eat. an eye opening and sometimes eye popping look at the former new york times food critic and the wonderfully food driven life he led. my absolute favorite part of the book was the description of the outrageous dinner that claiborne enjoyed at the expense of american express! Oh, my!! if i can ever score a deal such as that by making a winning bid during a P.B.S. fundraiser i would be one happy girl! if ...more
Susan Thompson
Aug 19, 2014 Susan Thompson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about this book or the man it's written about until I started reading it. That seems to be a trend with me this year, reading books based on their title or subtitle. While this books reads like one giant list of dish after dish of amazing french food, there is more to the story. I don't think you really get to that until you're about half way thought the book though. At first you're blown away by all the food. I finished this book a couple of months ago and I'm still hungry. All i ...more
Josie
May 11, 2012 Josie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book as a Goodreads First-Reads giveaway.

I haven't read biographies concerning food and foodies before. I mean, I've read Salt, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, but I'm unfamiliar with this style of work.

Thomas McNamee takes a loving but also blunt approach to laying out Claiborne's life and work. The descriptions of the kinds of indulgences that Claiborne loved and helped create are sumptuous (though mostly drawn from the NYT anyway), and definitely make me intrigued as to Claiborne
...more
Zarahi
Jul 05, 2013 Zarahi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Person interested in food, food critics, NYT,
Craig Claiborne gave his life for food. Literally, he died after a life of eating and drinking. It is true that his high standards and genuine talent paved the way for a new layer of deep appreciation for food from all over the world. However, it is unfortunate that he was such a lonely man. In the midst of such good company throughout his life, he was really alone. The writing is good but fuzzy. I wonder if the author wanted to honor Mr. Claiborne writing style by making it fastidious at times. ...more
Wanda Brenni
I have to admit that I had a harder time putting this book down than the last one I read that was a historial romance. I'm not sure how well written it is and find the portrayal of Criag claiborne, while perhaps accurate, does not lead one into the depths of his being--little empathy. That said, I've had the New York Times Cookbook has a steady reference for more than 40 years and have always been amazed by the variety and quality of the recipes presented. I have lived through this culinary comi ...more
Vicki
May 10, 2012 Vicki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To be honest, this was the best non fiction I’ve read in a very long time. The authors words seemed to pull me along from one page to the next page, and the next, and when I finally looked up to see what time it was, it was way past the time I had intended to read.

The book is not only full of statistics, it is full of heart. It’s very well written and is perfect for anyone who loves food or how we came to consume so much processed food instead of the healthy, made from scratch meals our grandmot
...more
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