Phillip Cooke had a heart attack and died. We, who loved him, have made a space in our own heart where he will live happily ever after.
Phillip loved to read: magazines, newspapers and most of all, books. He loved art: fine art and performing arts and ballet and most of all, the Paul Taylor Dance Company. He loved good food and great wine and the New England Culinary Institute. He loved music, most of all, opera. He knew the name of every singer of every aria in every opera.
He loved his friends and his family, but most of all, he loved Daniel Maye. They were partners for forty-four years and will remain so, always.
This past weekend, more than 200 friends and family gathered together at The Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts in Louisville to remember how often Phillip laughed.
In 1982 Phillip and Daniel launched The First Symposium on American Cuisine. The event helped to foster a newfound interest by fine-dining chefs in what would soon become known as New American cuisine. What a triumph it was!
Famous foodies of the day came from all over the country to try and figure out this thing we were calling ‘American Cuisine.’ American winemaker Robert Mondavi bestowed a bottle of 1964 Cabernet Sauvignon in every hotel room.
Led by the redoubtable Phyllis Richman, the former Washington Post restaurant critic, a retinue of “researchers” set forth to “discover Kentucky barbecue.” We returned to the hotel bearing bags of greasy chunks of ribs, slices of Wonder bread, cole slaw and soggy fries. We tore the meat with our fingers and drank deeply, straight from the bottles of cabernet. Sated, we arrived at the black-tie dinner, slightly sloshed and sublimely happy. Phillip and Daniel frowned at our naughtiness. It was the only time I can remember their disapproval. I don’t remember much about the dinner, but I’ll remember that barbecue until the last trumpet sounds.
At the Symposium, chef/restauteur Larry Forgione described the network of artisanal farmers who were supplying his restaurant. The audience begged for their names. Larry refused to divulge them. (He knew these small producers couldn’t possibly provide enough smoky bacon, wild salmon, hand-made cheeses and preserved fruits to fulfill the needs of all. He didn’t explain his reasoning though so everyone was momentarily mad with him.)
The attendees turned their attention to trying to define “American Cuisine.” No one had the answer though New York restaurateur Lydia Bastianich volunteered that trying to explain it is as difficult as attempting to pet a porcupine.
Next we were invited to invent a less sexist word to replace the job of “waitress.” Elaine Corn, a Louisville food journalist suggested, “anyone who brings food and takes away the plate should be called a ‘Mommy’.” The idea didn’t fly. What a great time we all had. What great friends were made, many of them lasting to this very day.
Later, Daniel was the driving force who increased the membership of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), from a clutch of modestly accomplished cooking school lady teachers into its present dynamic membership of over 3,000 in 45 countries.
As noted in Food Management, Phillip’s laughter and spirit will stay alive in a special scholarship, which has been established at the New England Culinary Institute. Contributions in his memory can be made to the NECI Scholarship Fund, Inc., Phillip S. Cooke Memorial Fund, 56 College Street, Montpelier, VT 05602-3115. The scholarship fund is set up as a 501(c)3 charity so any contribution is fully tax-deductable.
Reflecting upon this Symposium and IACP, all the many food conferences and all our innumerable memorable dinners reminds me yet again that our own personal complex ever contracting, ever expanding circle of friends is our most precious possession. It is a gift that energizes, it is a gift that invites constant nurturing and continuing loving care for all of us to flourish.