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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER CRAIG CLAIBORNE
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Food editor of the New York Times


"To be a good restaurant critic, you shouldn't have a conscience," says Craig Claiborne, food editor of the New York Times. "I used to visit restaurants twice a day, frequently seven days a week, and lie awake brooding about whether my reviews were honest — whether I was hurting somebody who didn't deserve to be hurt."

Recognized throughout the United States as the father of modern restaurant criticism, Claiborne joined the Times in 1957, and shortly thereafter was given the go-ahead to write reviews based on a four-star system. "The New York Times made the decision. I was the instrument. It was the first newspaper that allowed a restaurant critic to say anything he wanted. It took a lot of guts, when a newspaper depends on advertising."

A 58-year-old bachelor whose soft voice still carries strong traces of his native Mississippi, Claiborne has few of the characteristics generally imagined of a Timesman. He is a true bon vivant, and does not appear to take himself or his work too seriously. He prefers to be called by his first name, is not a particularly fashionable dresser, and spends as little time as possible in Manhattan. In his lighter moods, such as that in which I find him on the day of our interview, he delights in telling jokes that are classics of schoolyard humor. The punch line, more often than not, is drowned by his own uproarious laughter.

Although he has maintained a Westside apartment for the past nine years, Claiborne spends most of his time at his house in East Hampton, Long Island, next door to Pierre Franey, one of the greatest French chefs in America, who, since 1974, has co-authored Claiborne's food articles for the New York Times Sunday magazine. Recently he purchased a larger, more modern house about 15 minutes from Franey, which he plans to occupy shortly. The pair cook together about five times a week. Claiborne calls the house "my Taj Mahal — my Xanadu."

He explains his jovial mood by saying that the night before, he attended a big dinner party for restaurateur Joe Baum at the Four Seasons. "It was an everybody-bring-something dinner. Jim Beard brought bread. I brought saviche (marinated raw fish), and Gael Greene brought some chocolate dessert. I got roaring drunk."

In spite of his earthiness, Claiborne unquestionably ranks as one of the leading food authorities of his time. His articles, which appear in the Times each Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, cover every subject from the particulars of a dinner for Chinese V............
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