2008/05/05

Charles Perry Flies East From L.A. Times

By JULIETTE ROSSANT

Charles Perry in May 2008
When one of the most generous and best food writers in the country retires from his job at the Los Angeles Times, Super had to find out more. Charles Perry is the world's foremost authority on medieval Arab cookery and the culinary history of Los Angeles. The LA Times reported that Charles has retired and will next be traveling to Turkey:
He is the quintessential "Renaissance Culinarian," equal parts historian, storyteller, detective and cook. While food is but one of Charlie's passions -- do a Web search under his name and you're likely to find references to medieval cuisine, long-dead languages, Haight-Ashbury, Rolling Stone magazine and even Augustus Owsley Stanley (his college roommate) -- it has, of course, been the focus of his professional life. A member of the Times staff for 18 years, Charlie has often been referred to as the wit of the Food section, with knowledge (and personal experience) covering everything from historic California pit barbecue to the finest ancient recipes for rotted barley.
Use and Limits of Power in the Middle East, 2004

Charles is the guy the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, flew in to fix a medieval Arab banquet.

If you want to follow in his footsteps and become a great food writer, take a look at the summary biography Charles sent Super Chef:
Born & raised in L.A., majored in Middle East Studies at Princeton '59-'61 and U.C. Berkeley '61-'62 & '63-'64 ('62-'63 I was at the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies, Shimlan, Lebanon, under the Carnegie-funded National Undergraduate Program for Overseas Study of Arabic). It was in Lebanon that I got interested in food. Worked at Rolling Stone 1968 (starting at issue #12) to 1976, when I left to write The Haight-Ashbury: A History for Random House. In 1980, as a hand-to-mouth freelance writer, I gathered every cent at my disposal and spent two months gathering medieval cookery manuscripts at libraries in Egypt and Syria (also a couple in Paris, London and Dublin). Presented my first Oxford Symposium paper at the second Symposium, 1981.
Besides his trip to Turkey to a conference at Traditional Tastes Conference in Safranbolu and Istanbul to study medieval Arabic cookbooks, Charles told the LA Times that he plans to continue his work with the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and the Culinary Historians of Southern California (of which he is a co-founder and longtime president). Charles added:
I'll send my agent my Partying Like It's 1399 proposal next month. I'm also incubating ideas for a history of Middle Eastern food, maybe with elements of a Waverly Root-style survey of regional styles, and a history of L.A.'s food tradition going back to the mid-19th century (most Angelenos know nothing of our history unless it has something to do with Hollywood so they don't know, for instance, that the first Cabernet Sauvignon in this country was made around where City Hall stands today).
Medieval Arab Cookery, edited by Charles Perry Super Chef will be first in line to purchase and read Charles' next books. If you don't have it already, get his Medieval Arab Cookery - it is a classic, and read his forward to Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (Read Super Chef review). These are must reading for anyone interested in the cuisine of the Middle East.

Previous articles:
Lilia Zaouali: Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World

Claudia Roden: Arabesque
Arab Table: May Bsisu
Sufi Cuisine: Nevin Halici
Oldest Cuisine in the World: Jean Bottero
Sensual Language of Bakhlava: Diane Abu-Jaber
[Cookbook Reviews - complete]


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