The Short Biography of a Dining Historian
When writing Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2002), I coined the term, ‘dining historian,’ to encapsulate my hybrid approach to the food and art of the past. A finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professional’s literary food writing category, the book described twelve historic European banquets as they were experienced: with all of the human senses and emotions. The New York Times defined me as “one of a new breed of food studies scholars who view meals not as ephemeral events of passing biological significance but rather as windows onto a culture’s most pressing concerns.”
Not content to merely write and lecture about historic meals, I also enjoy creating dynamic contemporary banquets inspired by them. For one of the extravagant dinners that I produced in tandem with a lecture series at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York I transformed the auction house’s twenty-first-century boardroom into an eighteenth-century Venetian casino in tribute to a souper intime that Casanova recounted sharing with a nun. Another event, held at the Pierpont Morgan Library, featured hangings of Medici-inspired brocades by Rubelli, ‘peacock pies’, and musicians strumming period lutes while attendees consumed Renaissance fare and contemplated the Neoplatonist symposium hosted by philosopher Marsilio Ficino outside of Florence in 1468.
A native New Yorker, I adopted Paris as my home in 2004. The city provides endless inspiration not only for its rich gastronomic and artistic history but for the complex dialogue which the contemporary metropolis has with its past. In 2006 I created a series of culinary walks and ‘annotated meals’ for Context Travel, which explore the history that lies behind Paris’s current foodways. Recently named one the top ten culinary guides by the Wall Street Journal, I have also organized tours for the Dublin Institute of Technology, Oxford Brookes University and New York University as well as for many private clients.
Since 2008, I have written a column for The Magazine Antiques about European exhibitions, auctions and antiques fairs. As the 2009/10 winner of the Julia Child grant for independent research in food history, I am also currently studying sixteenth century banquets in France and Venice as background for a book about why history credits two exotic princesses and a cross-dressing king with the introduction of the dinner fork. My initial thoughts on the subject appear in the essay, ‘The Sexual Politics of Cutlery,’ which I wrote for the catalog of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum’s 2006 exhibition, Feeding Desire.
From Sept. 2007 through July 2010 I served as Chair of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery Trust, the oldest and preeminent international conference devoted to the serious study of food. In addition to revamping the Symposium’s website and organizing stimulating programs with speakers such as Simon Schama, Sidney Mintz and Harold McGee, I am proud to have inaugurated a new standard of fantastic Symposium meals, which I created in collaboration with leading chefs and restaurateurs such as Fergus Henderson, Raymond Blanc, Jeremy Lee, and Camellia Panjabi as well as with prominent organizations such as the Region of Emilia-Romagna and Tourism Ireland. A Trustee since 2005, I continue to serve on the Symposium’s Board.
My degree at Oberlin College was in European History. Although I spent far too many hours of my undergraduate career cooking dinner parties, it was not until after I attended the Royal Society of Arts diploma course at Christie’s Education in London, which melded the study of the history of decorative arts to that of fine art, that I wondered why the palate had been left out of the equation. While working for New-York-based antiques dealer James Robinson, Inc., I spent my spare time as a stagiaire at Peter Kump’s Cooking School (now I.C.E.) and pouring through antiquarian cookbooks and memoirs at libraries across the USA and Europe.