Great People: Craig Claiborne

Growing up I bought a biography/cookbook by Gourmet Magazine editor Craig Claiborne. At the time I was in a flux of nurturing my growing love for cooking with my new found love of fashion. I had seen Craig in the party photo section of Town and Country many times over and to find someone who had a link to the fashion world and cooking put me on a new high. Once home I scoured through the book for an ounce of fashion world. Sadly at the age of 10, I was wrong and heartbroken. Looking back at that event in my late teens, I actually identified I was more attracted to seeing someone who might be gay. 

In college I brought the biography with me and re-read it at the age of 18, the book took on a whole new meaning. Claiborne’s biography was a glimpse into his life and career, highlighting all of the great cookbooks he wrote throughout his career, along with some really great recipes her encountered and mastered in his lifetime. On a weekend visit in 1994, to friends in New York City, I decided to explore the upper east side for the first time. I took the subway North and got off at 96th street. The evening was just beginning and I decided to walk down Madison Avenue. Most of the storefronts were closing at that hour. I ran across a coffee shop that was still open and sat down for a quick drink and snack. I overheard a couple mentioning to the barista they were heading to a speaking engagement with Craig Claiborne at a local bookshop about French Cookbooks. 

I stalked the couple for a few blocks towards 5th Avenue. Sadly I cannot remember the exact street but the shop was in the basement of an old mansion or building. When I approached the shop an attendant outside asked for my invitation but sadly I was lacking such credential. I explained how I didn’t have one but had heard from another couple that Craig was speaking and how inspired I was by him growing up and the comfort of seeing gay professional. The young lad at the door smiled at me and let me in while asking me not to take a seat. I was cherish seeing Craig Claiborne speak in person but while everyone was quick to head off to a dinner at this person’s apartment or that persons or up to Elaine’s over on 2nd Avenue (that’s another story for another day). I decided linger for a little while.

My patience paid off because while I was browsing the book shelves the young gent who was at the door asked me if I wanted to talk to Craig, I of course stuttered and said “yes”. As I rounded the corner of the book shelf, there sat Craig Claiborne and he just smiled and waved me over. We sat and talked for about 20-30 minutes if memory served me correct. I told him the story about finding his book when I was young and later in my teen years I re-read the book. He giggled at the idea of someone that young reading his book, we talked about his years as a young closeted male during WWII and his work with Pierre Franey. The evening could have continued because Craig said he wanted to invite me to the dinner he was attending at a friends house next but I was tad under dressed. Jeans really aren’t gauche on the upper east side.

I still cherish that brief encounter. I plan on reading the biography again real soon. It’s a really great read.