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Jan 31, 2012 01:41 AM

Who Are Your Cooking Icons/Idols?

Do you have any cooking icons/idols?

By this I mean an individual whose cooking philosophy/approach/aesthetic/technique/results you absolutely adore. Maybe this person opened your eyes to the wonderful world of food. Maybe he/she taught you everything you know about food.

It could be your mother, father, grandparent or sibling. It could be a chef, a food editor, or your mentor. There are a lot of big names in the culinary industry and the world of food seems to be getting bigger than ever with celebrity chefs abound. It could be Rachel, Martha, Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Julia Child, Emeril and the rest of them. But it does not have to be a celebrity and you can have as many as you want.

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  1. Great post claritas. I never really thought about this until now. You've mande me realize...

    I would have to say it is my partner. Is he a great cook? Not really. Does he know as much about cooking and food like I do? No. Has he ever posted on CH? No. So why may you ask?

    Because he is the one who got me to explore my real Italian roots and travel to Italy where I discovered a whole new world of cooking and eating. Up to that point I really only knew about the Italian American cuisine. Since then, my views on all foods have opened up widely and my cooking has improved 100%. That's why.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ttoommyy

      Nice! Is he also of Italian heritage?

      1. re: claritas

        No, that's the odd thing. He's of Mexican descent on his father's side and a mix of Scotch, Irish and a few others on his mother's side. But he loves Italian food and the culture. We've been to Italy 5 times so far in the 17 years we've been together.

        Also...I would be remiss if I did not mention my mother who of course "taught" me (I observed and learned that way; nothing was EVER written down) all those wonderful Italian-American recipes and allowed me to stay home from school as a child so we could bake Christmas cookies together. She of course was my first influence.

    2. Well, there's a framed photo of Julia Child over our kitchen sink that we refer to as our kitchen goddess...

      But for me, it would have to be Calvin Trillin. He's not really a cooking icon -- by his own account, he's not a cook -- but reading American Fried at the age of 14 really opened my eyes about concepts like regional cuisines, small purveyors and the like that didn't become generally fashionable topics until a good 20-25 years later!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

        Yes, reading Alice, Let's Eat was a formative experience for me as well.

        M. F. K. Fisher was also hugely influential, and although I found much to disagree with, especially on my most recent re-reading, John & Karen Hess's The Taste of America was a revolutionary and thought-provoking read in the late 70s. Raymond Sokolov's columns on regional American foodways in Natural History magazine were extremely educational.

        Then there was Elizabeth David, and (oddly enough) the crime novelist Nicolas Freeling, both for his memoir of working in European kitchens (Kitchen Book) and for the many passages in his novels describing meal preparation and enjoyment. (Freeling also led me to reading the works of Charles Dickens, but that's well off-topic.)

        1. re: Allstonian

          Wow, a crime novelist! I love the unconventionality of your icons.

        2. re: Jenny Ondioline

          Cool. He sounds like a revolutionary is his field. And the Julia photo... Priceless!

        3. You know...this is really great "food tor thought" because it has nothing--absolutely nothing to do with our favorite tv chefs/personalities or cookbooks. After some serious thought, I would say...
          Jacques Pepin
          John Folse
          Daniele DeLorme (my husband's aunt who lives in Paris--THE best food philosopher I know)!

          5 Replies
          1. re: jarona

            Was Jacques associated with Julia? The name sounds familiar.

            1. re: claritas

              They had a cooking show on PBS together that is now shown on Create TV. He also has his own cooking show. He's great--simple. Not fussy. great recipes and he is a wiz with a knife!

              1. re: claritas

                "Was Jacques associated with Julia? The name sounds familiar."

                Jacques Pepin is probably the best "celebrity" chef there ever was. (sorry Julia) He is an excellent instructor, possesses great knowledge of both food and drink and his skills in the kitchen are beyond compare. I can watch that man cook all day long.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  ^^I can watch that man cook all day long.^^ Me, too. My mom is a huge fan of his as well.

              2. Miss Edna Lewis is one of them for me. Her protege, Scott Peacock, is another. Grandma Mimi, who taught me to cook and bake, certainly. Hubert Keller makes BEAUTIFUL food. I love him. Marcus Samuellson; I like his food ethic. Fergus Henderson: the nose to tail thing is wonderful. Alice Waters, and all her foragers.

                11 Replies
                1. re: mamachef

                  So cool! I only recently stumbled upon and discovered Edna Lewis. I watched a documentary about her (link: and loved her story.

                  1. re: claritas

                    A lady beautiful and true, all the way through. Check the Gourmet archives for the Jan. 08 issue, "What is Southern?" Beautiful essay by her and wunnerful recipes. Her potato casserole is amazing, especially if you have a mandoline.

                    1. re: mamachef

                      I read that article as well. She definately was fabulous.

                      1. re: claritas

                        Did you read the connected article about Scott? He was her companion for many years, and that saved him from suicidal depression. She was failing, and it made him get out of bed.

                        1. re: mamachef

                          Wow. I didn't read that article. But in the documentary he mentioned that she saved his life. Their relationship was beautiful.

                          1. re: claritas

                            I'm so glad you picked up on that, claritas. Yes, it certainly was a thing of beauty. The other thing I adore was the great respect for boundaries She never, ever mentioned his sexuality, and that's odd considering her age, but certainly a joy to consider; that she was so wide-open and they loved each other so very much.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              Their friendship even crossed many usual social boundaries: age, race, gender, sexual orientation. Their common denominator was their love for (southern) food and it truly blossomed.

                  2. re: mamachef

                    Edna Lewis had more of an effect on professional chefs; in a sense, she was for American professional chefs what Julia Child was to home cooks. Before there was Alice Waters, there was Edna Lewis, without the cosmology and ideology.

                    In a similar vein, I would classify John & Mattie (his wife) Thorne of Simple Cooking fame. Their newsletter comes out very erratically (now about every 15 months, it seems, instead of a few times a year), but for years you could guarantee that a number of the Thorne's musings would wind up within a year in a variety of major cooking publications. Get every one of their books, if you are American and don't have them.

                    Madeleine Kamman and James Peterson: both are reliable translators of technique from a professional to a home level. The kind of technique they teach allows you to become an Edna Lewis in your own ecosystem. Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe fame appears to be a similar spirit.

                    As you can tell, these are not TV personalities. TV has become a food wasteland in the past 25 years: too much shtick and travel/aspiration lifestyle crap (all driven by marketing towards people who like to own lots of gadgets and have an overfull pantry and a kitchen renovation that turns a workman's kitchen into a showpiece that is more for showing than for getting messy in...sigh), not enough technique. (Jacques Pepin is an exception: I love the memory of his rebuke of Julia Child when she made fun of his getting every bit of egg white out of an eggshell - *real* cooks know that the discipline of not wasting anything is the muse of the best technique and repertoire, because the margins of a cooking enterprise depend absolutely upon managing waste ruthlessly; Julia was duly put in her place, and proper. Speaking of Julia, when you go to her earliest, B&W episodes, you can see how much friggin' content there was in them; very little waste in terms of content.) In terms of TV personalities, I loved the Two Fat Ladies - they had fantastic technique, just buried under the shtick so that it didn't look like hard work; those two looked like they could make a feast out of a bag of scraps - which is what the best cooks can do when armed with sufficient technique.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      John Thorne IS wonderful. He gave a recipe years ago that I use to this day. Cubed, floured butternut squash, drizzeled w/ butter and baked till caramelly - handful of shredded parm at the last.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        Ummmm, that squash sounds --divine! Can't wait to try it. Thanks for the tip.

                        It's this one, right?


                      2. re: Karl S

                        OH, I forgot someone. Netty McBirney, aka "Aunt Chick":


                        My mother's mother was a great bread baker, but not so great with pies and cookies and what not. So my mother learned from Aunt Chick, and I've done enough reading realize my mother was far from alone in this regard. Anyway, I have a stained and tattered Aunt Chick leaflet that amounts to a small masterclass in a pie baking.


                        Aunt Chick devised a screen-bottomed pie pan (I have a modern version) that produces a superlative crust (you just have to be judicious in choosing an implement to cut your pie with). Aunt Chick's cookie cutters remain in our family. Aunt Chick was of the newspaper and radio era, and didn't quite make it to the TV era, and I just wanted to put a plug in for her.

                    2. Martha Stewart, Michael Chiarello, and my Sicilian MIL. Also, Jonathan Gold, and Russ Parsons. Oh yea, Michael Pollan "If you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple; you aren't hungry"