Contentment’s Elusive Recipe

Craig Claiborne sparked a renaissance but couldn’t quite relish it.

Comments: 85

  1. And if LGBT individuals were accorded the same respect, acceptance and love even a wife-beater receives automatically... his life might have been savory enough to cherish.

  2. I was a huge fan of Craig Clairborne. I never met him. But I did meet his collaborator, Pierre Franey. Pierre lived in a beach house on Gardener's Bay in East Hampton. A friend of mine had a house a few doors down from Franey. One day when I was visiting my friend, Pierre happened to pop in for a glass of wine, as he often did. After a couple of glasses, he invited us to tour his kitchen. It was were he devised recipes for his books and his New York Times column. He was funny and charming and I have always considered myself lucky to have spent time with a truly great chef - and a wonderful man. If only Craig had been there that day working his magic at the stove. Too bad he didn't live long enough to be lionized on cable TV. Or maybe that's just as well.

  3. Claiborne was another in a long line of tormented artists. His brilliance as a food writer masked his inability to enjoy thoroughly. But who could not take pleasure in his love affair with food? I recall some summer column when he wrote of the first sweet corn ripening on Long Island, streamed just so and then slathered in butter and greedily devoured. Reading him, you felt you knew him.

  4. Some wise comments here -- but perhaps Mr. Claiborne's apparently very difficult early life was partly responsible for his trouble in achieving perspective.

    I'd like to say how much pleasure his recipes and approach to food have given me, and -- even better -- how I've been able to pass a little of that along to others. And I know my experience is only one of innumerably many.

    Not many of us give so much to others, and it's a shame if that (never mind the awards) did not give him satisfaction.

  5. In failing to gain peace from his achievements, how is Claiborne different from most of the geniuses we celebrate? It seems to go with the territory.

    The first edition of his New York Times Cookbook remains the standard. Neither Child nor Beard could match its combination of variety with accessible simplicity. Our copy is a stained, torn, charred wreck, the binding long since gone, and is still the go-to cookbook in our home.

  6. Frank,

    When you wrote that "a loving companion matters" and that Mr. Claiborne "often lacked one who was wholly devoted", and that the world in his time was hostile to his gays, your description of that life brought to mind Abraham Maslow's theory of a "Hierarchy of Needs".

    Maslow insisted that before one can become truly "self actualized" and see the view from the "summit" so to speak, one must have certain basic human needs met, including the need for love and loving relationships, and the need to feel safe in one's environment.

    Viewed in this context, it may become easier to see why Claiborne was unable to fully enjoy the fruits of his creativity and labor. How sad that the dreams for happiness would fall short despite enormous talent.

    Claiborne's is a cautionary tale which applies to us all.

    Thank you for telling a part of his story.

  7. Aah! Of course we need a sense of safety and a sense of belonging before we can truly enjoy our own view from the summit. Granted being gay was not helpful, especially in those days, but one needs to "belong" before enjoying one's achievements and the fruits of success.

  8. Craig Claiborne remains my kitchen god. He and colleague Jean Hewitt gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure, and their cookbooks live on long after they themselves departed. I'm sorry to learn that Claiborne's life lacked the gratification his achievements merited. Anyone who is unfamiliar with Claiborne's talent can still pick up one of his cookbooks, with their classic, timeless, recipes and have a whale of a good time in the kitchen.

  9. I started reading Craig Claiborne’s NYT column as a teenager, it was the first, and often only article I read when my parents brought home the paper. I followed him until the columns ceased, rarely missing a Wednesday; his first NYT cookbook was a wedding gift; it is still a favorite. Your conclusion is so sad, but so true. Thanks for your insightful review.

  10. Craig Clairborne was a Saint... of eating and cooking -- important things in life, especially now when we need to learn how to make plant things taste good with a minimum of meat and oil.

    Of course -- of course! -- we should know about all things... but there are some details that we might prefer to leave to historians and those interested in special history.

  11. How will we learn if we put our heads in the sand?
    Knowing how society's condemnation can suck life's enjoyment from someone as well known, respected, and loved as Craig Claiborne is surely an important lesson to be learned!

  12. what about his recipe partner, pierre? i don't know whether they had a closer partnership or not, but my wife produces great food from their cookbook--which makes me forget the western pennsylvania comfort food on which i was reared. he brought so much to so many people, he should have been content. sorry he wasn't.

  13. You should try looking at a book called 'Dishing It Out: In Searech of the Restaurant Experience'. It blows the lid off the culture of restaurant-reviewing.

  14. Frank,

    As a kid, I loved Craig Claiborne, and I would never have guessed, from his very confident posture on the cover of his book, that he lacked for anything. I certainly never could have imagined, back in the 1970's, that his being gay caused him any heartbreak.

    That may be because in the late 1970's and early (pre-AIDS)1980's in San Francisco, we were surrounded by empowered gay men, several of whom were our grade school teachers. That was the difference, I think, between New York, which was still quite closeted, and San Francisco, where gay power was slowly, but certainly, coalescing.

    You seem to be linking Claiborne's sadness to his life in a closeted world. But surely, there have been tons of accomplished, ambitious, driven straight men and women who were equally lonely? Gloria Steinem, perhaps?

    I'm not denying the reality that discrimination created real pain for Claiborne. I just don't think the totality of the man, or his drive, should be reduced to his sexual preference.

    And for all the discrimination Claiborne faced, I can guarantee you that were he a black man, he would never have won that position at The New York Times.

  15. That is one poignant story, Mr. Bruni.
    But a worthy cautionary tale, though I don't think you'll need to worry about any proliferation of mass professional success with this economy and these politicians anytime soon. That domain would singularly be yours to contemplate I'm afraid.
    I don't see you making the same missteps though.
    I have a feeling you know how good you've got it and appreciate it every day.

  16. I know that Craig Claiborne Julia Child or James Beard didn't create Starbuck's. But, the advent of quality American cuisine (and coffee) all eminate from these three persons.

    I remember eating in restaurants like Lutace (at the time, it was considered to be one of the premier French restauarants in New York) -- well, perhaps the country.
    The end of the meal: dessert and coffee... Using a drip at home -- my coffee was far superior.

    People now in their 30s have no idea of the nature of the quality food revolution which has occurred in recent decades. Thanks to Craig, Julia and James.

    So sorry to learn of the tragedies which visited Mr. Claiborne during his final years.

    Bon apetete!

  17. Craig Claiborne taught me that food could be elegant as well as nourishing and that setting a good table could make your home a center for friends, a place where good things and laughter happened while you ate a delicious dinner. I still look at the Blue and the Green cookbooks when I need inspiration. And I am still reminded by my longtime friends and relatives of memorable meals. They were not haute, or silly, but they pleased the senses. I loved "Julia," but "Craig" was my go-to guy.

  18. Such a shame, too. Between Claiborne, Childs, and Beard, this triumvirate encouraged, in fact, drove New York to become a capitol of fine dining and cooking. What a pity that Claiborne wasn't able to savor his own accomplishments. The rest of us were much the better for having "known" him.

  19. A shame he didn't enjoy his work and writing as much as I did. I still miss his contributions to the Times.

  20. He was a great human being and "philanthropist" in the sense of "nourishing what it is to be human"—he enhanced probably millions of lives of those who owned, used, and cherished his many books and articles.

    As for his own life, there were two aspects: public/social, and private. The first was hugely successful and surely gratifying; the second apparently nonetheless wretched. But both were personal.

    Would public and cultural acceptance of LGBT statuses even addressed the private torments? The public and his personal society loved Craig Claiborne. Perhaps his private life needed other solutions, if any were possible.

  21. Craig Claiborne's writing and work with food were highly influential for me. I doubt that Mr. Claiborne knew how much respect his work gathered him as a person. I admired him from my first reading of a NYTimes review or recipe. At the time, I was departing from a community whose beliefs were less than tolerant of his beliefs and lifestyle. But I personally advocated his status, bought his books and wished him well. I wish that we readers would have been able to give him that perspective of himself: a talented, creative gentleman.

    God bless you, Mr. Claiborne and Mr. Bruni. Thank you, Frank Bruni.

  22. and so, elsewhere in today's pages we come to philip larkin and, for anyone not already tuned, a sobering resonance...

  23. Frank, as you mentioned recently, as time passes one has to go easy on the alcohol if your are going to enjoy the food.

    Excess in liquor will ruin anyone, especially a professional gourmand who requires taste and to have his senses about him.

  24. Certainly there is no pat answer to explain away one person's internal war with demons and the next person's seemingly charmed existence. But few can deny that all children have a better shot at the latter when they are born into families eager to welcome them, able to care for them and accepting of them as the unique individuals each of us is.

    When parents are mandated by intrusive laws to bear a child before they're psychologically ready, or one they cannot afford to care for, the child's chances for personal stability are placed in jeopardy from the get-go.

  25. Well said. It reminds me of a story on national public radio about a sweet man who lived in San Francisco and was well known in the gay community due to his charisma and physical beauty. Sadly, his mother wasn't able to accept his sexual orientation and he died of drug abuse in his twenties. The story talked about how at the end of his short live he was delusional and was seen walking by himself, seemingly having conversations with his mother. It's amazing how those primary relationships with our parents stay with us and impact us - and how difficult our lives can be if we do not feel loved and accepted by them.

  26. Because of today's battles re choice, I just want to put emphasis on your comment:

    "few can deny that all children have a better shot at the latter when they are born into families eager to welcome them, able to care for them and accepting of them as the unique individuals each of us is.

    When parents are mandated by intrusive laws to bear a child before they're psychologically ready, or one they cannot afford to care for, the child's chances for personal stability are placed in jeopardy from the get-go."

  27. Back in the days before blogo-spheres or even before cable, it must have been odd for Claiborne to read such a front-page headline in 1963 while knowing his views sold newspapers and made money for the Times.

    It must be hard to function as an LGBT person in such an environment, producing substantial revenues, yet reading such stories designed to ' keep people in their place(s) '.

    Of course this was also before the civil rights movement in the U.S. had produced lack of discrimination guarantees for people of color, so it was indeed a vastly different time than now.

    Claiborne's life seems to show how lives are lived one day at a time - discrimination that can be reversed in one day by law, but that does not make up for the life-times lived under discrimination, and does not reverse the personality quirks, coping mechanisms, or mental and physical health ravages wrought by discrimination.

    At least Claiborne got to see the best things could be (for his times) being in New York - too bad he couldn't benefit from medical advances in depression treatments, and he certainly reminds us of the travails of those whose shoulders we stand on as professionals in our industries.

  28. I enjoyed this article very much. Thank you.

  29. What a wonder-full piece you wrote about Craig Claiborne, Frank! I was around when he hitched his wagon to the NYTimes cuisine column star and wrote all those books on how to cook everything in the early 1960s. When the Four Seasons and all the Restaurant Associates dazzling restaurants from La Fonda del Sol to Quo Vadis and Windows on the World opened and closed. Your piece entitled "Contentment's Elusive Recipe" referencing Thomas McNamee's biography of Claiborne is a must-read for anyone interested in cooking nowadays and gobsmacked how the epithet of "gay" (which wasn't in the vernacular during the Korean War - it was "queer" then) could affect a man's entire life and prevent him from cherishing himself and his success. Craig Claiborne was born in the wrong time.

  30. What a strange commentary. Instead of celebrating the 50th anniversary of this man who did so much for American culture, it uses his private life to make a hackneyed point, leaving the reader with an empty, disappointed, sour taste. I would expect more respect towards such a giant who gave so much to to so many..

  31. I find no disrespect here; only praise and sympathy.

  32. Not a "sad reminder," except perhaps for the departed Mr. Claiborne. An important one. One that we must all hold in ourselves.

    Mr. Claiborne (a family friend) certainly lived in the "wrong" era. But he was a good man to his friends, my father among them.

  33. Which is saddest?

    1. Never learning to find true love?

    2. Drinking too much for too long?

    3. Living a life that Meryl Streep can't make into a movie. Or can she?

  34. Not a topic I might otherwise peruse, but you make it more than palatable. You have a touch of the old Frank Rich in you, Mr. Bruni, continue to use it well.

  35. Thank you for this column. To this day, there are some dishes I make from Craig Claiborne's NYT Cookbook. His is a cautionary tale, for sure. A man, no matter how successful, does not live by bread alone, so to speak. He must contend with his inner demons and his times regardless. We have come a long way in acceptance since Craig Claiborne had to make his life in this culture, but not nearly far enough yet.

  36. How very reminiscent of Artie Shaw, another great artist who reached the pinnacle of success but found that rise inversely proportional to his overall happiness. His book,
    The Trouble With Cinderella, explains some of the thinking behind this phenomenon. I'm certain fans of Claiborne would find in Shaw a kindred -- and immensely sad -- spirit.

  37. Addiction is a terrible thing. I feel for Craig Clairborne and his sufferings. But the niche he filled was not occupied. Women occupied it. But it took a man to make it "important". Isn't that always the way?

  38. Exactly what I thought when reading the opening paragraphs of Frank's column. He touches on the womens' work being "accorded only so much respect," but, oh what?

  39. Craig Claiborne taught me to cook, and I still have my New York Times Cookbook from 1968. Both covers tore off long ago, and now the index goes up only to H, but I don't need the index because I know where everything is, based on frequent use. There are also accidental bookmarks--the "Beets with Orange" page is smeared with beet juice and mummified bits of orange peel; the pot roast page is blessed with old beefy smears and a garlicky finger smudge. The photographs are dated and often hilarious--a buffet set with Mad Men-era decor, etc. I love that cookbook, and will never order a new copy. I understand that the original version has been altered over the years, and that makes me very sad. Now, through your blog, I learn that Mr. Claiborne was beset by loneliness and boredom. I wish that I, and all of the other "new cooks" of the 1960s, could call him up and invite him to lunch. I could do the entire meal, almost from memory, with that tattered, favorite cookbook.

  40. ...and I volunteer to be one of the sous chefs. When my now husband and I first moved in together we had our first compromise: deciding whose copy of the NY Times Cookbook to keep in the kitchen? (We kept my husband's because –he's neater.) Around that same time I watched Mr. Claiborne lead teaching classes (VHS tapes.) I can remember his dapper appearance, his obvious respect for ingredients and the way his softly accented voice said, "chicken thighs" in one memorable recipe. He still is my culinary hero.

  41. I read your story of Craig Clairborne as a tragedy more than one of perspective. His inability to find happiness most likely was a result of having to live two lives and bury one so deep that it could only be reached on a river of alcohol. The joy and satisfaction he was able to bring to the tables of America seemed to be deliverable only at the expense of hiding his own self that was criminal in NYC at that time. Instead of perspective, perhaps we should recognize his personal torment that split his life between the foods he loved and the alcohol he needed to medicate his isolation. He brought pleasure to millions of heterosexual household who dismissed Mr Clairborne's alcoholism as a nuisance and not a symptom. Would they have been able to enjoy the culinary delights that Mr Clairborne revealed to them if he had revealed his sexual orientation?

  42. As a Family counselor, the one thing that strikes me in this article is that Craig Clairborne exiled his mother from his life.
    In our systemic family circles, we know that success is very linked to accepting MOTHER. Mother represents Life and Success, and exiling her, is exiling our own joy.

  43. Unfortunately, I have known of many mothers wo deserved not only exile but a summary execution. It is sad but you don't know what she might have been like. Maybe she never accepted the fact that he was a homosexual, maybe she was just mean and cruel. I don't know the answer, ut I do know that the choice may well not been his.

  44. Thanks again, Frank. That's about the best I can say to convey how much I enjoy your exquisite writing.

  45. Alcohol addiction, ruining not only the life of the person choosing to be one, but also the lives of many around him/her. Having been married to an addict, I have little sympathy for the messes they create for themselves (not being happy is one of the milder symptoms, by the way). My ex was also charismatic and well-known in his own little fish pond. His success never brought him happiness. Duh! Fortunately Mr. Clairborne never had any children, so they were spared the drama.

  46. As the daughter of an alcoholic mother who was always outgoing and looking for a good time, I finally realized that she was depressed throughout her life and alcohol offered brief escapes. Have sympathy. I couldn't cope with her either.

  47. You might be kinder, if you read the 1963 NY Times article cited by Mr. Bruni. It breaks my heart to see what a gay man had to deal with back then.
    'm straight (and not an addict to anything), but if this was the sort of incredibly hurtful, condemning attitude I had to deal with every day of my life, I might be driven myself to drink (or worse). I am constantly astonished and grateful hat so many GLBT persons have accomplished so much in spite of the bigotry they likely had to deal with daily.

  48. Mr. Claiborne changed my life. I discovered his international cookbook in a thrift shop and soon ceviche and fricasee and other exotic dishes appeared on my table, which became the talk of my small town. I'm not at all suprised to hear that he wasn't a happy man.., one doesn't put out that much work and have time for the leisure that loving relationships require. But truth be told, what we do is what will last..., how we feel about it dies with us (unless someone writes a bio). My daughters will get my copy of the international cookbook someday. They will wow their friends and Mr. Claiborne will speak to another generation.

  49. Craig Claiborne had a sister, Augusta, who lived in the Mississippi Delta. I had the pleasure of going to pot luck affairs where she brought a covered dish, and I still go through the cookbook her church issued to look for her recipes, because she was a wonderful cook, as well.

    Both Augusta and her brother agreed that their favorite dish was a family recipe for chicken spaghetti. Look it up on the internet and try it sometime. If there isn't a picture of the dish when you do a Google Image search for comfort food, there should be.

  50. Thank you for your column, which I hope someone will expand into a larger treatment of a fascinating, complex man dealing with himself, his origins, his profession and his times, and who gave so much to so many.

    One of the joys of his cookbooks was their embrace of the simple as well as the complex. He grew up in Mississippi, where they know about simple food, use simple techniques and equipment and fresh ingredients, and his recipes reflect that. His books fall open in our kitchen to at least a dozen house specials, and not a one of them isn't a crowd pleaser. We thank him weekly for it.

    He once wrote a wildly over the top column detailing an extravagant meal he'd eaten at a Paris restaurant which was the prize at an auction. Russell Baker wrote a hilarious take on it, which is up on line and still great reading, if you haven't seen it: and Beans.htm

  51. Was wondering if anyone remembered that trip to Paris. If memory serves me write, the auction was for Channel 13, PBS. He placed something like a $300 bid on a lot entered by a credit card company and won a $5000 meal anywhere in the world. He chose Paris and took Pierre Franey with him. Course after course. Bottle after Bottle. Lots of spoofs on it at the time. I think The Post did a front-page, blue-collar take on it at ye local greasy spoon. I wonder what the same meal would cost now.

  52. Magnificent, Mr. Bruni, and deeply touching.I will soon be "cracking" both the McNamee and the Kemp to a bourbon. Sincerest appreciation from one of the "food people."


    “Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.” ~ W. C. Fields

  53. It ceases to amaze me that creative people are often unhappy. I think immediately of Clairborne's fellow southerners Tennesee Williams and William Faulkner. It is no wonder Harper went into hiding.

  54. I remember my mother making dinner from Claiborne's cookbook and the delicious aromas in the kitchen. She adventurously tried most of the recipes and they turned out quite well.

    But how sad to hear of his lonely personal life. I am glad that we finally evolved into an acceptance of LGBT people... Not universal yet, but it will happen. And I am happy to know that my own son is in a loving relationship and living a joyful life. That's what we all need.

  55. It was Craig Claiborne, along with Virginia Lee, who gave me the courage to tackle Chinese cooking. Their stained and warped yellow-jacketed book is still my reference for classic dishes. I'm sad that someone who gave pleasure so well could not receive more of it.

  56. Thank you for this thoughtful and kind article about the man whose ideas about food and cooking had a significent impact on my culinary practices. I'll read McNamee's book, but I will quote the last two lines of your article to all who will listen, with proper acknowledgement of course.

  57. Craig introduced me to the world of cooking, presentation and eating. The New York Times Cookbook was the door that opened the wonderful experience of cooking. As a kiki lesbian I still have an apron that reads "Kitchen Butch." I wish Craig could have experienced and enjoyed his gayness as much as he did cooking.

  58. My Mom was a big Craig fan back in the 60's & 70's -- she had bought his Kitchen Primer, still one of the best "beginner" books on the art of cooking. (As far as I can tell it is out of print.) A few years ago I went to the Strand where I found one used copy on the top shelf of their cookbook section. I grabbed a ladder and up I went. Almost fell off coming down but it was worth it. It is a staple in my home as it still is in my Mom's. Thannk you Frank for your article. It is too bad that this man who brought so much joy to others could not find the same in his own life.

  59. I guess Frank Bruni and his editor are too young to know that "The Barefoot Contessa" originated not with chef Ina Garten, but with a 1954 film about the life and loves of fictional Spanish sex symbol Maria Vargas. It was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O'Brien.

  60. Mr. Clairborne was the person who taught me about fine dining through his NY Times reviews. (On Fridays back in the day.) I was a teenager in Teaneck, New Jersey and I would read the good, bad and ugly about fabulous restaurants only five miles away and only wish I could afford to taste them all.

    While the book sounds like it portrays his life acurately, I would have prefered a 'feel good' version talking much more about the revolution he started with James Beard and Julia Child (and certainly w Pierre Franey) and how it affects the food habits of everyone in America. Heck, even McDonalds has sun-dried tomatoes these days. I have a review of a friend's restaurant on my desk (La Petite Marmite) from 1969 and it sounds like onion soup was a big deal. Something every Denny's serves in this day and age.

    He changed every foodie's world around way before the term was ever invented. I will always think of him as a many far 'worldlier' than I will ever be. Who am I to begrudge a stinger or two?

  61. The first serious biography was written by Craig himself (A Feast Made for Laughter). It's a great book, still in print, highly entertaining, wonderfully written, and very candid. I recommend it to anyone interested in the man. Certainly it's a better starting point than any third party posthumous biography, regardless how good it may be.

    Was he truly unhappy and and detached? He doesn't appear so in his own writing, nor in the memory of his long time friend and collaborator, Pierre Franey. It's true that his lovers and his friends tended to be different people, but that's true for many people, gay and straight, and is not necessarily a mark of unhappiness.

    It'd dangerous to assess people's lives in the context of today's culture. Would Craig have been happier living in a gay-friendly culture? Who knows. But does it really matter? I care for him for who he was, in his world, and in his time. And that's the only context that really matters.

  62. It is so gauche to speak ill of the dead. Bruni's and McNammee's expose of Mr. Claiborne's demons sounds like jealousy. Are we really better off that these two small men have the nerve to make money off of someone's misery?
    The food industry is rife with competitiveness and exclusivity as this article so blithely reveals. Food mags kill themselves to come up with the most exotic ingredients for the most basic food.
    Black truffle oil anyone? I wouldn't make cheese and macaroni without it.

  63. It's funny, the "big three" is not an equal triangle. When I trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, the book store was named after Craig Claiborne. While the younger students had romantic notions of Julia Child and James Beard, they had absolutely no clue who Craig Claiborne was -- none. Unless you're a Times reader of a certain age, he just doesn't figure very prominently into people's memories or influences.

    A lot of chefs chalk up Claiborne's recipes to either being poached from readers of the Times, or Pierre Franey. Many of the recipes seem very quaint and dated today, unless you came of culinary age with them.

    In terms of being gay in a certain era, so was James Beard -- and from what I understand he gave life a big fat bear hug -- he LOVED being James Beard. And no doubt Julia Child LOVED being Julia Child. Maybe joy transcends time.

  64. This is not an uncommon tale. Professional achievement. Fame and fortune. Personal hell. The tyranny of self-will. Thank you Frank, for bringing it to the pages of the New York Times. This is exactly the type of deeply individual coverage that the history of gay culture so desperately needs.

  65. I'm surprised Frank Bruni does not mention, with respect to Mr. Claiborne's unhappiness, his relationship with his father, which had a sexual component, as he recounted in his autobiography. Although he loved his father --- a therapist suggested he consider his father's conduct abusive, but he rejected that idea --- he was nevertheless clearly disturbed by it.

  66. During the '70s and '80s my partner and I would often see Craig Claiborne dining alone on a Friday evening at John Duck's Restaurant in Southampton. Those were the days when the waitresses would bring your drink in a 1-ounce shot glass and dump it into your rocks glass in front of you so you could verify that you were indeed getting a full drink. Craig would have many. He was obviously lonely, and he would notice us and smile, but we were too timid to approach him. What do you say to a celebrity? How do you not intrude, but cut through to the commonalities you know you share? We were both too tongue-tied. We fantasized that we would invite him to dinner, cook some of the old family dishes from Maryland we knew he'd appreciate and make him feel relaxed and at home. But of course we didn't, couldn't.

    Occasionally we would see him in the check-out line at Gristede's, clutching a handful of very limp vegetables for his stockpot, so surprised a great cook would settle for so little. Did limp vegetables have more flavor?

    And once we attended an LGBT fund-raiser at his home in East Hampton specifically so we might have an excuse to meet him. He had opened his house, but he didn't attend. We did see his library, a small room lined floor-to-ceiling with cookbooks, and no furniture but an old manual typewriter sitting on a little rolling table. Again, it was the image of isolation and loneliness that was painful to see.

    Times have changed. We have matured. But too late.

  67. Wonderful column! Newspaper work is seductive, people work insane hours and newspapers like the Times encourage it -- even venerate it. For sure Claiborne was a complex person but one wonders if he could have figured some things out if he hadn't been chronically short on sleep and emotional reserve. There is a reason our great-grandfathers grandfathers manned picket lines demanding an 8-hour work day. Reasonable work hours are the foundation of civilized life -- as Europeans know so well.

  68. Every time I add a pinch of red pepper flakes to some dish or other, I recall how frequently THIS was the subtle kick in many a recipe for Claiborne. I still have yellowed copies of some of his sunday column recipes. Nothing since has equalled his days at the Times, which I now find very discouraging by comparison.

  69. Claiborne gave the Ballroom, a Soho cabaret and restaurant three stars back in the mid-seventies. It was a gross overstatement. The food was pure nightclub fare and he drank more than he ate. It was kind of crazy and he was already in a foul mood then.
    I have a very old copy of his NYT Cookbook. It belonged to my mother. I've never used it keep it as a relic of a time long passed.

  70. Success sometimes brings happiness, but only for those who don't harbor a secret guilt. Think Jack Nicklaus (happy guy) and Tiger Woods (not so much).
    Success in one area of one's life never, never, never compensates for self-perceived flaws. And if one can avoid secret guilts, then success is less important, and actually easier to achieve.

  71. How do you know that Jack Nicklaus is happy and that Tiger Woods is not? What's the "secret guilt" at issue in Craig Claiborne's case?

  72. As we are reminded by MadMen, excessive alcohol consumption was the norm in the 60s and 70s. Remember the three martini lunch -- it was real! We all drank lie fish.

  73. Working in Sardinia at the moment.

    Made me cry.

  74. It seems that Craig was unhappy and depressed, but he surely helped me, for one, to appreciate food, tastes and menus.. His NYTimes Cookbook was my bible as I worked my way from being a complete novice in the kitchen to being a pretty competent and imaginative home chef.

    Thanks to you, Craig Claiborne. Wish you could have been happier.

  75. Mary, that's my story too. That cookbook took me from the 50's cuisine I grew up with to new horizons! To Julia Childs and onward. I owe him my own joy in cooking and I too wish he had been happier.

  76. What a thoughtful, probing story about a legend, who spurred me on to cook with gusto and to whip up those NYT recipes as often as possible.

  77. Pie crust. Quiche Lorraine. Guacamole. Some of the recipes I first made -- and still make -- from my well-used copy of Craig Claiborne's 1961 "The New York Times Cookbook." Claiborne and Pierre Franey brought joy of cooking, eating and writing to me in their Times Magazine columns long before I reviewed restaurants for The Philadelphia Bulletin, which ceased publication 30 years ago ... Thomas McNamee wrote an excellent book on Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, so I look forward to his assessment of Craig Claiborne's life, sad though it may be.

  78. Craig Claiborne will never be surpassed. Let's not forget how well he wrote, how literate and refreshing his columns were, and how far-ranging his curiosity and interests were. He publicized, interpreted, and promoted global cuisine long before the word "fusion" was being kicked around. He was professionally trained in Switzerland and knew his way around culinary history and technique. Like others here, I grew up on his books and commentary and learned to cook "at his feet" and at Pierre's...long before I got my culinary certificate. Still miss him.

  79. One of your best columns, ever, Frank : a deeply sage insight.

  80. I loved Craig's book and read it from cover to cover when my mother bought it. The spagetti cassarole is one of my favorites--the orginal not the fake one Paula Deen makes. Fond memories and great column by Bruni.

  81. Thanks, Mr. Bruni, for the Craig Claiborne column. What do you think his $4,000 dinner with Pierre Frenay at Chez Denis in 1975 cost today?

  82. The Time Life Foods of the World Series published "Classic French Cooking" by Craig Claibourne and Pierre Franey - a beautifully illustrated book that should be read by all fans of Claibourne.

  83. Let us now praise famous men - and while we're at it let's "out" them as well.
    Mr Bruni I became a fan of yours almost with your first Column.
    Today I'm a bit disappointed though - I keep asking myself what's the base instinct that motivates "outing"?
    I'm pretty sure the answer is "spitefulness" - and in this case that makes me sad.

  84. if i knew that claiborne was gay i'm sure it was hardly a secret. and i think you do bruni a huge injustice by defining this rather poignant column solely in terms of his alleged 'outing' of claiborne

  85. As a heterosexaul male, I feel it is important to recognise how difficult it is to be gay in America and to speak out for those whos rights have and are still being stepped on. Claiborne had a lot going for him but he had to be careful for most of his adult life about who he was and who he shared himself with. That is a burden that could weigh anyone down.