The new lifestyle drying in the sun

“What Dean & Deluca did was give the food market a clean art that made it very timely, very much tied to the time SoHo was getting noticed,” says Florence Fabricator, the New York Times food scoopmeister, who wrote about the store. almost from its inception. “Jack Ceglic was responsible for a lot of that, the industrial aspect. And Giorgio and Joel were really into product discovery. It all tied together. And the other big thing they tapped into was the need for convenience foods.”

In fact, the time had finally come when it was socially and financially acceptable for young professionals, and even harried suburban moms, to bring home freshly prepared entrees, along with salads and sides bought by the pound. In an earlier era, prepared foods were problematic: they seemed too fancy and expensive (as Jean Vergnes discovered during her brief experiment with Stop & Shop in the 1960s) and, to women, seemed like a dodge, a betrayal of one’s duty. domestic. But with more women in the professional workforce and more people open to the general idea of ​​eating “gourmet,” especially if you had the go-ahead from a prestigious store like Dean & DeLuca or EAT, convenience foods began to take off — Rob Kaufelt , who grew up in the supermarket business and now runs Murray’s, New York’s beloved cheese shop, calls the rise of convenience foods “the biggest change in the grocery business in the last thirty years.”

Dean & DeLuca’s secret weapon in this regard was Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, who for a time was a partner in the store of the owners of the same name and Ceglic. Peruvian by birth, Rojas-Lombardi had come to Dean & DeLuca through the James Beard Cooking School, where he had risen through the ranks to become the master’s right-hand man in the kitchen. Rojas-Lombardi had also worked as an in-house chef for New York magazine, their go-to man for testing recipes. This pedigree came in handy not only in getting consistent advertisements for the shop in Beard’s syndicated column and in New York, but also in the fact that Rojas-Lombardi was a skilled and inventive cook: she roasted chickens tandoori-style, grilled salmon at he grilled on cedar planks and took a chance on such extravagant entrees as elk steak and his notorious rabbit with forty garlic cloves. “Felipe made some of the first pasta salads people had ever seen,” Ceglic says. “He did everything with the products we were selling, and people got it.”

“The idea was that if you didn’t know what a sun-dried tomato was, well, here it was, in a pasta salad,” Dean said.

The third point in New York’s triangle of convenience foods, with Dean & DeLuca at the center and EAT serving the Upper East Side, was Silver Palate, a small shop on the Upper West Side on what was then a drab stretch of Columbus Ave. The genesis of The Silver Palate lies in a mid-’70s catering company called The Other Woman, a one-person operation run by Sheila Lukins, a young mother of two who cooked in her Central Park apartment. West. As his company name and tagline (“So Discreet, So Delicious, and I Deliver”) suggested, Lukins’s clientele was largely male: professional men who wanted their dinner parties to be catered for, but not in an overly fussy way, by Edith Wharton style.

Lukins was a self-taught cook, more or less: she had taken a course at London’s Cordon Bleu while she and her husband lived there, but “it was the course for amateurs,” she says. Her biggest inspiration was not Child and Company’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but the more practical, less labor-intensive recipes in Craig Claiborne’s New York Times cookbooks and her Sunday articles for Times magazine. Lukins’ cuisine was eclectic but somehow complete: aspirational comfort food: moussaka, lasagna, ratatouille, stuffed vine leaves, and Lukins’ quintessential dish, Chicken Marbella, the quartered bird baked after a long soak in a marinade. Mediterranean-style oil, vinegar, garlic, plums, olives and capers.

While running The Other Woman Catering Company, Lukins met Julee Rosso, a young professional working in the advertising division of Burlington Mills, the textile company. Rosso had attended many events catered by Lukins and she was so impressed that she one day made Lukins a proposal. “She said, ‘A lot of women are working late now. What if we open a store for them?'” recalls Lukins. The two started the business as Silver Palate in the summer of 1977, with Lukins as cook, delivering food from her apartment several times a day to the then-kitchenless store, and Rosso as a salesperson and front man.

“It was a big deal for two women to start a business together in 1977,” says Lukins, who believes this angle helped the store garner almost as fawning and widespread press coverage as Dean & DeLuca. Zabar was the odd man out when it came to the press. EAT was flourishing, offering an even more extensive and glitzy line of prepared foods than Silver Palate, but the owner’s truculence kept it from being a press darling, a circumstance that only worsened in the 1980s, when it released writer Julie Baumgold, wife of the then New York publisher Edward Kosner, for attempting to return an item he had purchased. (“I told him to fuck off, because there was nothing wrong with that,” says Zabar.)

“Eli is a great retailer and his store has always been amazing, but I don’t think he liked us at all,” says Lukins. “I think he thought we copied him, and we didn’t. I mean, we were a little corner of his shop! But we got the publicity and the good reviews.” Within a year of opening, Silver Palate was selling its own line of products at Saks Fifth Avenue, including items such as winter fruit compote, Damson plums in brandy, and cranberry vinegar.

Four years later, The Silver Palate Cookbook was published by Workman and became the cookbook of the 1980s, not just in Manhattan but throughout the United States. More disciplined and down-to-earth than The Moosewood Cookbook, but less intimidating and grown-up than the two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Lukins and Rosso’s book was perfect for multitasking baby boomers who had it all and wanted to cook. ok but not all the time. Her introduction recalled the state of affairs that led the two ladies to the decision to open their store: a new era in which women found themselves juggling “school schedules, business appointments, political activities, art projects, Sculpture classes, going to the cinema, exercising, theatre, chamber music concerts, tennis, squash, weekends in the countryside or on the beach, friends, family, fundraising, books to read, [and] shopping,” and yet they were forced to “prepare creative, well-balanced meals and occasional dinners at home.” The Silver Palate lifestyle offered two solutions: you could use Lukins and Rosso’s recipes, or buy their products and prepared meals.

The very emergence of the word “lifestyle” in the late 1970s marked a progression in American food culture. The stylish life was no longer just for the wealthy boulevards, but for anyone who considered themselves upwardly mobile, and eating, cooking, and shopping for groceries was as stylish as it could get. In 1976, when The New York Times expanded from two to four sections a day, introducing a new daily business section and a rotating fourth section devoted to soft news and service journalism, the first two “fourth sections” to appear They were Weekend (Fridays). ) and the Living section (on Wednesdays), both with a strong gastronomic component. The Weekend section included the restaurant review column, which lasted longer and carried more weight than when Claiborne introduced the column in the early 1960s. Where Claiborne’s early columns were usually roundups, devoting just a blurb or short paragraph to each restaurant, the new version evaluated no more than two restaurants at a time, with much more intimate first-person reviews from the new Times reviewer, Mimi. Sheraton.

The Living section leaned even more into dining, with shopping news and product reviews from Florence Manufacturer; a wine column by Frank Prial (a subway reporter who turned out to be an oenophile); health and nutrition news from Jane Brody; Claiborne’s recipes, essays, and travelogues; and a new column by Pierre Franey, signed at last, titled “60-Minute Gourmet.” Arthur Gelb, who was put in charge of the new culture sections by the paper’s executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, had wanted to appeal to time-strapped up-and-coming mobile home cooks by publishing a column called “30 Gourmet Minutes”; Gelb and his wife, Barbara, were impressed by Franey’s ability to prepare quick, simple, and delicious Hamptons meals (flounder in butter sauce, for example, or pork chops with capers) after a long day of fishing.

But Franey was still too purist to limit himself to thirty minutes. (Like many chefs, he, too, found himself giddy over the word “gourmet,” preferring the title “60-Minute Chef,” but deferred to Gelb on that matter.) The first “60 Minute Gourmet” column featured a shrimp “margarita” recipe, a Franey invention that called for shrimp to be cooked in a sauce of tequila, shallots, and cream, with avocado slices at the end, and began with a statement of intent (written by Claiborne) that stated, “With inventiveness and a bit of planning, there’s no reason why a working wife, bachelor, or husband who likes to cook can’t whip up an elegant meal in less than from one hour”.

Excerpted from The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp Copyright © 2006 by David Kamp. Extracted with permission from Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this extract may be reproduced or reprinted without the written permission of the publisher.


an excerpt from the book The United States of Arugula

by David Camp

Published by Broadway Books; September 2006, US$26.00/CAN$35.00; 0-7679-1579-8

Copyright © 2006 David Camp

Chapter Seven

The new lifestyle drying in the sun

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