A Look Back at Chefs Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey in East Hampton

Sniff,” he says mischievously, taking off the lid. I lower my head, and…it’s a soupçon of bouillabaisse. But how can this be?

This large Creuset was last used by Pierre Franey…how many years ago? Richard Barons smiles. He’s about to secure the pot for the exhibition Craig Claiborne & Pierre Franey: Cookbook Revolutionaries in East Hampton, but the Executive Director of the East Hampton Historical Society delights in showing that the scent of a master chef’s bouillabaisse can linger on. The pot, now on display to the general public at the Clinton Academy in East Hampton, joins other items from the kitchens of Craig Claiborne (1920-2000) and Pierre Franey (1921-1996)—photographs, awards, cooking tools, an autographed apron, first editions, artwork—all part of a celebration of these two culinary friends and collaborators—restaurant critics, journalists, cookbook authors and editors—who spent much of their lives in East Hampton.

The exhibition, drawn from Franey family loans (including the weather vane that hung over Franey’s stove and a duck press used to make foie gras), rare photographs and memorabilia from private collections, drew oohs and aahs on opening day, May 30. It’s an attractive and informative exhibition, nostalgic and appreciative.

Visitors are greeted by a large print of a picnic table, chairs and accouterments that sat outside the Franey’s Gerard Drive home. In front of the photo is…a picnic table, chairs and accouterments, a three-dimensional replication that sets the stage for what’s on display inside. Claiborne and Franey changed the “white bread” world of “fleeting preparation and cake mixes,” as Barons refers to it. The dynamic duo emphasized fresh and French.

Images from times past include photos of the two greatest “picniques” of all time. These took place on Gardiner’s Island in 1965 and 1966 (the first earning a full-page spread in the August 5, 1965 NewYork Times and pictures and story in Life Magazine). Photos also abound of the pair with various celebrities, among them Danny Kaye, Betty Friedan and Burgess Meredith. Understandably, both food experts were depicted by Al Hirschfeld, also on display. But many photos also show Franey and Claiborne as working chefs making the most out of the simple and ordinary—a favorite knife for filleting fish is just a knife, nothing fancy. A stuffed lobster is presented on a long piece of driftwood. A meal of mussels starts with the pair scooping them off Cartwright Shoal.

Eunice and Robert D.L. Gardiner are seen aboard their boat Laughing Lady making their way to dinner and dancing on Gardiner’s Island (with music by a French accordionist) where Franey and Claiborne await, along with Jacques Pepin, La Caravelle’s Roger Fessaguet, Le Cirque’s Jean Vergnes, René Verdon (White House chef under Kennedy and Johnson)—as well as family and friends.

Claiborne and Franey were international stars who loved and supported local causes. “A Gastronomic Dinner to Celebrate the Third Annual Exhibition of The Artists of Springs” on August 8, 1970, for example, took place not at La Pavilion but at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, as a colorful watercolor by Claus Hoie illustrates. Epicurean delights featured creations not just by Claiborne and Franey but Vergnes and pastry chef Albert Kumin, as well. Images from the heady days fascinate, such as a Le Pavilion menu from the late ’50s—when “café” went for 75 cents, an entrée of scallops in sherry for $6.25 and Le Hamburger for $6.25. Then there’s the huge hand-painted and lettered menu from Claudia Franey’s 1975 wedding, where six top chefs cooked as a wedding present. What elation!

While a June 1966 cover from McCall’s shows serious-looking chefs sitting around a table, just about every other picture in this engaging exhibit testifies to the legacy of Franey and Claiborne: joy of cooking.

Craig Claiborne & Pierre Franey: Cookbook Revolutionaries in East Hampton is on view at Clinton Academy (151 Main Street) in East Hampton. Open Saturdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sundays 12–5 p.m. Call 631-324-6850 or visit easthamptonhistory.org.

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