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Review: Bio details revolution in approach to food

Associated Press Modified: May 7, 2012 at 10:00 am •  Published: May 7, 2012
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Despite his success and many honors, Claiborne's life appears to have brought only superficial joy. Forced by the strictures of the times to hide his homosexuality, he was often depressed and nagged by self-doubt. His alcohol consumption was mind-boggling, as he routinely downed a half-dozen margaritas or scotches, a bottle or two of wine and a few stingers or cognacs before, during and after dinner. It was a rare morning that didn't include a hangover.

This first comprehensive account of Claiborne's life transports readers to renowned restaurants, profiles innovative chefs and traces the revolution in dining that his writings did much to inspire.

The book is replete with anecdotes and memorable incidents, some of them monuments to breathtaking excess. There is the lavish party on the liner SS France to celebrate Claiborne's 50th birthday, where guests included Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot; the closing of the legendary restaurant Le Pavillon in 1960 after the staff walked out amid a feud with its tyrannical boss, Henri Soule; and, of course, Claiborne's $4,000 dinner for two in Paris, an outgrowth of a public television auction.

Students of social history and readers with an abiding interest in food will find much to savor in this book. But those whose palates aren't attuned to the likes of foie gras and truffles may get their fill early on. De gustibus.

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