Panelist: Cookbook-Keepers Seminars
Former Official State Chef, State of Ohio
Public radio reviewer
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
(**) 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
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
(*) 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