A Culinary Era's End

WE try here to take care not to speak loosely when we proclaim ``the end of an era'' or the beginning of a new one.

But the conclusion of Pierre Franey's ``60-Minute Gourmet'' column after a successful 17-year run in the food pages of The New York Times will make a difference in the kitchens of countless cooks nationwide.

One of the virtues of Mr. Franey's column was its usefulness for home cooks at any level of competence. Some of his faithful readers got into their habit unaware of what a presence Franey was in the gastronomic world. They just thought of the column as a good source of sophisticated but uncomplicated recipes.

The columns were complete and self-contained. The introductions - typically a comment on the virtues of boneless chicken breasts, or a little anecdote about how a recipe came about - could be prosaic. But the instructions were clear and the ingredients manageable. The menus virtually always included a side dish or two, so that even a novice could present a complete meal, not just a main dish. That promise of ``60 minutes'' helped keep the culinary goal always in sight. And providing an elegant French title for whatever one was serving family or guests didn't hurt either.

He has noted how when he started out, ``The notion of preparing an entire home-cooked meal in less than an hour was formidable.'' Nowadays, spending a whole hour on a meal seems almost self-indulgent.

But for those seeking a little extra grace in a necessary part of daily life, ``The 60-Minute Gourmet'' has been invaluable. We will miss it, and will cherish our yellowing clippings.

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