Cookbook Keepers: Page 10

Cookbook purchases seldom travel. Two fates await a cookbook.
It reposes on a collector's shelf, or it becomes part of an estate and handed down to next-of-kin.

Tom Johnson
Panelist: Cookbook-Keepers Seminars

Former Official State Chef, State of Ohio
Culinary Instructor
Public radio reviewer
Lecturer, Author(*)
Cleveland, Ohio

As a working chef in high volume fine dining kitchens, Chef Tom Johnson was a pioneer in working with dairymen and farmers in his Central Ohio. He was a practicing locavore before such was a busy word in this century.

When Richard Celeste was governor of Ohio (1983-1991), at the behest of his then wife, Dagmar Braun Celeste, he created the title of Official State Chef in his Department of Agriculture. Johnson was retained to head the Heartland Cuisine (**) program...actually touring the state to demonstrate uses of meat, fish and vegetables from Ohio's farms and streams.

(**) At its inception, Heartland Cuisine was a protected brand owned by the state. Once Celeste was out of office the next administration dropped the brand name and replaced it with Ohio Proud. The slogan was Made In Ohio, Grown In Ohio. That idea was to encompass all in-state manufacturing which included Timken roller bearings and Cooper Tires, hardly equal in importance to products from the earth and streams. HearlandCuisine.com is now a privetly-owned domain.

The man cannot make up his mind about a favorite coobook. From his stash of hundreds, it seems the most recent purchase is his favorite. The New York Times should use this gent in a promotional house ad. Shall we begin to make some order out of this conversation overkill....

His fave in late December, 2011:
The Taste of America
(His 1977 edition)
by John L. Hess and Karen Hess
University of Illinois Press
c 1972, 2000

The Taste of America
(The Food Series) Paperback

(His 1977 edition)
by John L. Hess and Karen Hess
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
c 2000

(*) Currently working on a book:
Chipped China, A Guide to Collecting
Eighth Century English Porcelain

Meet Henry Tudor, Arbiter of Taste...

Pinning Chef Johnson to a single fave
cookbook is like nailing Jell-O to a wall...

There are two Tom Johnsons. Maybe three or four, depending on which foodie career one is considering. What say we count his four stops along the cookery career path. No. 1 stop: Top chef working the hot line in four major fine dining restaurants in Central Ohio. He co-owned one of the four. A second stop was to preside as a restaurant critic for a public radio station where he honed his ability to float off-beat opinions from any exact eatery onto a single menu item that needed exposure. Listeners loved the guy. No. 3 career: Marketer of Ohio wines, Ohio meat, fish and edible garden produce, Ohio-grown, of course. His fourth: Raconteur as Henry Tudor, Arbiter of taste.

Pose a food question to this gent and he gives you measurements, cooking temps, needed utensils, origin of country for pots and pans, preferred brand names for the flour and vinegar with the names of his butter and milk sources. Ask him to name a favorite cookbook among the hundreds he spreads around his condo...well, pass on such a thought. Meet Henry Tudor...

"OK, Here's the reply. I will read virtually anything by Paula Wolfert (*) and the late (Dame) Elizabeth David. Paula Wolfert, a New Yorker who with her crime writer husband, Bill Bayer, headed to the East Bay area (Walnut Creek) of San Francisco some years ago. She has been proclaimed "Mistress of the Mediterranean" by her legions of serious cooking fans, her publishers, and probably a very sharp lit agent. Her first great success, "Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco," though widely imitated, was never bettered and is still in print. It revealed a sharp intellectual bent and investigative ability for the best in ethnic foods. Wolfert has been praised for her culinary integrity by John and Karen Hess as well as the late Richard Olney. She has been compared with England's Elizabeth David who many consider the benchmark for writing about exotic foods beyond their native homelands.

Elizabeth David (1913-1994) the British cookery author devoted 60 of her productive years to writing cookbooks. Generally she is credited with exposing Brits to foods not cooked in boilers or ground and stuffed in gut casings prior to cooking. Eight of her books were published in the 34 years between 1950 and 1984. After her passing in 1994 her literary executor, Jill Norman, dug through her scribbled notes and published five more cookery books.

Chef Johnson oft mentions this David work:
English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977). He says this is her most academic work, that it will be in reprints for decades to come. In Johnson's culinary classes he always mentions Elizabeth David as inspirational.

"Probably every book I own, written by Paula Wolfert AND Elizabeth David is going to be dragged onto the proverbial desert island for which, along with a decent kitchen of my own, I have spent a lifetime searching.

"Elizabeth David needs no introduction to the cognoscenti of fine food. She is already their queen. When Elizabeth knelt before Queen Elizabeth II, receiving her Order of the British Empire (OBE), Her Majesty inquired: "What do you do?"

"Write cookery books, maam," came the answer, to which the Queen remarked: "How useful!" Elizabeth David has been written about, biographied, celebrated, and finally called a Dame, to say the least. Thousands of American intellectuals returned annually from Europe with the famous Penguin paperbacks of her works, carrying her sacred mantra of culinary honesty and simplicity into the best American kitchens. She probably helped end wartime rationing in Britain in 1949 because the public was demanding the marvelous ingredients which filled her first book.

"Later, "Mediterranean Food," and its successors, "French Country Cooking" and "Summer Cooking" took England by storm in the early 50's. Always available in Penguin paperbacks, but scarcely anyone ever parts with these, merely allowing the food stained pages to disintegrate into the stock pot, these three were gathered together in 1980 by Alfred Knopf, Julia's publisher, into a wonderful little volume entitled "Elizabeth David Classics." David's magnum opus, "French Provincial Cooking" was published by Michael Joseph (London, 1960) to international acclaim. A little known American edition, with an introduction and explanatory notes by a great Narcissa G. Chamberlain, was published in 1962. It made few new ripples among the general American public. Despite the efforts of Dione Lucas, James Beard, and Louis Diat, French cooking and alas, its seminal techniques did not burst upon us until the end of the decade when National Public Broadcasting and Julia Child crossed paths. Moreover, Elizabeth David presumed that anyone who would buy her book already knew something about cooking AND like all intelligent people who start on page one and read more than just the recipe itself.

"Ms. David's favorite book, Italian Food, in 1954, and in America by Knopf in 1958, is considered by connoisseurs her best work and the finest on its subject. It has been through countless Penguin paperback editions, the latest in 1999 with an introduction by the late Julia Child, full of praise, but cognisant of a certain vagueness and imprecision in David's writing which limited her appeal to our customary precise methods. So be it; they go to that island along with practically everything else David wrote. That includes her editor, Jill Norman's trove of posthumously published collections of notes, scraps, and outlines found in Elizabeth's home. One clinker, noted by Sam Sifton, of The New York Times in 2011, someone came out with those ghastly "Best of Elizabeth David" collections in a coffee table format. (Sifton doesn't know that a few years back, someone came out with "Italian Cooking" in an art museum....second rate, probably stored art, from provincial Italian museums,....format which was an instant bomb). Sifton and I both agree that nothing would irritate Elizabeth David more, for her belief was in fine ingredients, carefully prepared, and served as unpretentiously as possible.

"One more thought in the dishing vein, the late Richard Olney's memoirs, "Reflections," published posthumously, in 1999, by Brick Tower Press, makes John and Karen Hess' book "The Taste of America" read like the Bobsey Twins."
--- Henry Tudor, Arbiter of Taste.

(*) Chef Tom Johnson suggests Paula's Website: She's in the Cookbook Hall of Fame, the James Beard Foundation.

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