Paradigm shift. If you could boil down into a phrase what Mad Men is about, it would be “mid-century paradigm shift.”
Mad Men explores it on the large scale: Clueless about how to sell coffee to young adults, the men of Sterling Cooper attempted to shoehorn the Port Huron Statement into their ad campaign. They completely missed the point because the cultural paradigm was changing.
Mad Men also explores it on the small, personal, scale: Peggy Olson was quite happy to advance to the new paradigm and be a sexually liberated woman; But she only went halfway and was institutionalized when unable to face the consequences in Pete’s illegitimate child.
Mad Men even explores it on the minuscule scale: It’s found in minor details often ignored on TV but which Mad Men has made a point of getting right — clothes, hairstyles, daily living, and food.
Ironically, many paradigm shifts come through an aggregation of change in small details. It comes from the bottom up instead of the top down. And it starts with simple changes in attitude, perception, and taste.
In the mid-century, that shift started when young American soldiers returned home from World War II. Having experienced different cultures from Japan, Germany, France, and the Hawaiian islands, they became less provincial and more worldly. Thanks to the booming economy, they had the means to explore newly acquired tastes when the opportunity arose.
Food – central to human experience – also saw its paradigm shift in the mid-century. The popularity of Julia Child’s 1961 book Mastering The Art of French Cooking and the proliferation of tiki lounges like Trader Vic’s show that the war time locations of France and Hawaii made quite an impact.
A new book explores both the micro-changes of food in the mid-century paradigm shift and its place in the Mad Men TV series: The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin.
Published by BenBella Books, this book is part of BenBella’s SmartPop line. Written for intelligent detail-oriented pop culture fans, SmartPop books delve into the various milieu in television, film, and literature. They’ve released books on Grey’s Anatomy, Dexter, and James Bond.
A cookbook is a departure for the SmartPop line but it succeeds well. Like a meal in a fine restaurant, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook is elegant in its presentation. Its design is clean. Its layout is open. And its content is served over five courses: cocktails, appetizers, salads, main courses, and desserts.
Rather than presenting a generic collection of recipes, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook goes further. Authors Gelman and Zheutlin have selected recipes specific to certain Mad Men episodes; Each is prefaced with a short episode recap and is followed by a brief bit of history regarding the food’s origins and place in mid-century society.
For cocktails, you can imbibe the Playboy Club’s Whiskey Sour or the Stork Club Cocktail; For salads and appetizers, you can sample Jackie Kennedy’s Avocado and Crab Mimosa salad or Barbetta’s Roasted Fresh Peppers Alla Bagna Cauda. And, for the main course, you have your choice of Sardi’s Steak Tartare, Lutece’s Prawns in Snail Butter, or a host of other delicacies.
If you prefer a home-cooked meal, there’s always Joan’s Crown Roast or Trudy Campbell’s Rib Eye In The Pan, or Gazpacho and Rumaki from Betty’s Around The World dinner. And, of course, don’t forget Don’s Old-Fashioned.
All selected recipes are period authentic and Gelman and Zheutlin boldly state their sources, many of which are the chefs and bartenders of New York’s finest establishments. So, this book is equally for Mad Men fans, mid-century mavens, and cooking enthusiasts.
Authors Gelman and Zheutlin’s extra attention to detail is what elevates this book over other cookbooks. Even if you aren’t interested in cooking, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook still has something for everyone. Pick up a copy. Even if you never cook a thing, it’s still a good read.
Get a free sample chapter from this book by going to BenBella Books’s The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook page and scroll down to “Sign up for free chapters and book updates.”
SmartPop, an imprint of BenBella Books
288 pages, 7in x 9in
Disclosure: A free copy of the reviewed book was solicited by the authors and provided by the publisher.