At Craig Claiborne's:; Home is where the hearth is

Pierre Franey, wearing sandals and a chef's apron covering trim shorts, had just taken a large sheet of chocolate cake from the oven. Craig Claiborne was standing or half-sitting on a stool at the end of the island counter working at the electric typewriter, a phone at his elbow.

We came, Barth Falkenberg, Monitor photographer and I, to do an article about a typical workday chez Claiborne, the man often called the culinary muse of millions. But our first impression was as much of the magnificence of the kitchen as the workday already in progress.

At Craig Claiborne's house, the kitchen door is the front door and the famous kitchen is large, sleek, and professional with stainless steel built-in fixtures , terra cotta floor, and bleached oak cabinetry.

Skylights in the high ceiling give warm, pleasant lighting. It is beautifully organized as a workroom and it suits perfectly the needs of this food writer, although he admits the 24 by 35 feet of space isn't really enough.

There is a white brick structure with a special deep oven known as an Indian tandoor, several Chinese works, and such conveniences as professional stainless steel garbage pails on wheels, a huge marble countertop on a long island with an undercounter refrigerator, and a handy pullout shelf that holds a collection of measuring cups, assorted bowls, and other often-used utensils.

One end of the kitchen, originally intended as an extra work station, has become a sort of warehouse for new and experimental equipment such as knife sharperners, meat slicers, mixers, and on the day we were there, three or four food processors, each set up with different blades. There was also a pasta machine and an ice-cream maker.

The hearth of this home, the kitchen, is in keeping with the spacious but comfortable feeling of Claiborne's contemporary house, set in a wooded area overlooking Hand's Creek on the edge of quiet lake in Springs, a tiny place about seven miles from the center village of East Hampton.

No one commands the respect of master chefs and serious cooks the world over like Craig Claiborne.

His columns are followed by thousands of people who share his food experiences all over the world, from down-home American food fairs to a Brazilian outdoor barbecue, the kitchen of a Brooklyn housewife, a ship's galley , a French restaurant, a Greek Easter feast, and visits to Italy, China, Haiti, or Morocco.

They read about the restaurants he visits and about the famous chefs who visit him and cook in his kitchen.

But most of all his readers like to cook the recipes from the Craig Claiborne food columns in the New York Times, or from hi numerous cookbooks.

Claiborne takes this responsibility seriously, devoting much careful attention to working out the details of each recipe.

Working as a brilliant team, he and Pierre Franey improvise, experiment, and interpret the various themes of the famous master chefs, amateur cooks, and specialists who visit Claiborne's East Hampton kitchen.

Along with the travel, the interviews with interesting people and the research, the filtering through hundreds of ideas, requests, and suggestions, there is also the basic, nitty-gritty work of adapting and testing the recipes.

Franey and Claiborne work beautifully in concert. Claiborne stands at his typewriter, taking down each step in the preparation of each dish.

Pierre is at the piano balancing three or four pots at once with the ease and finesse of the master chef that he is.

This kitchen piano includes a 6-burner range, salamander broiler, microwave oven, grill and griddle, and a regular oven with warming cabinet, all covered with an exhaust hood.

The two have been working together ever since Claiborne wrote an article about Le Pavillon, then considered the greatest restaurant in New York, when he declared Franey the finest chef in the country.

Shortly afterward they became friends and started preparing weekly menus. For the past 20 years they have worked together on columns which appear with their bylines together and separately, as well.

When Barth and I arrived they were working on recipes for several articles that would appear in the Sunday column. In the few hours we were there, they cooked, tested, and wrote about half a dozen different recipes for specific articles.

Franey had just removed a large chocolate cake from the oven. Claiborne was checking a folder of letters from readers with questions and ideas for making something called a mud pie that had its genesis in the state of Mississippi.

The loaf just out of the oven was their version of the cake, a cocoa and nut loaf, to be topped with marshmallow and a chocolate and pecan icing.

They discussed the recipe for marshmallow which would be part of the topping since Claiborne's policy is to make everything from scratch, even marshmallows.

Specific times of oven and heat, exact measurements, and of course, flavor were double-checked.

Tasting it later I agreed with readers who had warned that it is without question, "sinfully rich." It appeared in the Sunday New York Times Aug. 23.

While the chocolate cake cooled, the pair continued with two recipes for chicken wings, one that Claiborne had encountered in Buffalo, N.Y., said to rival chicken preparation worldwide.

The chicken is served with celery sticks and a special blue-cheese dressing. The recipes appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Aug. 30.

Contrary to some cooks who are hesitant about revealing the sources for their ingredients, Claiborne is enthusiastic in praise of suppliers in his neighborhood and had no hesitation in taking me around to some of his favorites.

"I can easily get almost any ingredient I want -- fresh vegetables and herbs, wonderful poultry and seafood, all here in East Hampton. When I came here I had no idea how marvelous it would be for fresh foods," he said..

If the quiet beauty of the countryside is what brought Claiborne to this area to live, Iacono's Poultry Farm could well be one of the things that keeps him here.

The owner, Salvadore Iacono, is obviously on the same wavelength with Claiborne when it comes to the quality of broiling or frying chickens which he raises and sells, freshly killed.

They delight Claiborne, as do the squab chickens that are "tender, delectable , and quickly cooked," and the Ianoco eggs.

"You cannot find fresher eggs anywhere than these," he said. Mrs. Iacono works with her husband in the 30-year-old family business on Long Lane in East Hampton. They also sell superb geese during the winter holiday season and mallard ducks in winter months.

We stopped next at the Green Thumb Market on Montauk Highway in Water Mill, owned by Ray Halsey, whose family has owned land here for more than 200 years.

Claiborned has no trouble finding here such hard to get new foods as fresh coriander, sorrel, arugula, horseradish root, ginger root, watercress, the new sugar snap peas, and a dozen or more kinds of lettuces.

The Seafood Shop, Claiborne says, is one of the finest fish markets on Long Island. Opposite the Wainscott post office, it is small, but very well stocked.

"The fish is extrordinarily fresh and I can get monk or angler fish, bluefish , eels, squid, fluke, flounder, striped bass, locally smoked fish and all kinds of shellfish," he said.

We stopped by Dean & DeLuca's and found it as well stocked with unusual and hard-to-find foods as the Manhattan store.

After this full day of kitchen work, Claiborne would be off to various cities of the United States for radio, television, and other interviews promoting the soft-cover edition of his diet cookbook, a project he was not enthusiastic about , since he is more comfortable working at home than making public appearances.

His summer vacation in Scotland would be spent finishing his autobiography. Scheduled for publication next year by Doubleday, its title, from Ecclesiastes, is "A Feast Made For Laughter."

His 14th book, "Craig Claiborne's Gourmet Diet," written with Pierre Franey (New York Times Publications, $10.95) is on the best-seller lists and is now available in a paperback edition, (Ballantine Books, $2.95).

His first book, "The New York Times Cookbook," published in 1961 in the most popular and has sold almost a million copies.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.