Comrades in Food: A Pair of “Cookbook Revolutionaries” in East Hampton

Franey seasons a plate of food in the kitchen while Claiborne looks on smiling.

Through their decades-long collaboration, storied New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne and celebrated French chef Pierre Franey introduced Americans to adventurous cuisine while having gastronomic adventures of their own.

In addition to promoting the use of local ingredients and penning wildly popular cookbooks and food columns such as “60 Minute Gourmet,” the duo is credited with organizing “the two grandest picnics of all time” on the beach of Gardiners Island with several sought after French chefs such as Jacques Pepin and Roger Fessaguet.       

To honor their contribution and remember their finest moments, the East Hampton Historical Society will present the exhibition: Craig Claiborne & Pierre Franey: Cookbook Revolutionaries in East Hampton at the Clinton Academy Museum. The opening reception will be held on May 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. and the exhibit will run through July 13.

Claiborne Franey and four other French chefs stand around a lavish picnic with several baskets of food on the beach

“The grandest picnic of all time” on Gardiners Island. From left: Pierre Franey, Jacques Pépin, Roger Fessaguet, Jean Vergnes and René Verdon (1965).

Richard Barons, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, says the exhibition will include around 75 photos, along with illustrations, menus, films, Claiborne’s and Franey’s entire list of cookbooks, as well as many artifacts from their kitchens, such as a small, handmade grill used at one of the Gardiners Island picnics.

“People waited for their food articles,” Barons says. “And many credit them with introducing the idea of buying fresh, local food and broadening the imagination of the public with their recipes.”

Another item in the exhibition is the menu of Claiborne and Franey’s legendary $4,000 meal, won by chance in an American Express sponsored charity auction in 1975, where the winner could choose dinner for two at any restaurant in the world. Claiborne and Franey chose the Chez Denis, a small but illustrious Paris restaurant. The tab, $16,000 in today’s dollars, included 31 courses of such dishes as filet de boeuf Oga Palinkás, wild pheasant and pears Alma.

While they made headlines (and wrote them), Claiborne and Franey were also local fixtures on the East End, remembered for their dinners, parties and presence in the community.

“We were just totally mesmerized,” says Barons of the photographs, “by the sheer exuberance of these guys.”

Where and When:
Clinton Academy Museum, 151 Main Street, East Hampton, NY  11937
Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. & Sunday, 12p.m.- 5 p.m.