Fred Ferretti, Journalist Turned Food Writer, Dies at 90
Fred Ferretti, who covered a slew of current events for New York newspapers before becoming best known for his prolific writing on cooking, edibles and cookery for The New York Times and then Gourmet magazine, has died Monday at his home in Montclair, NJ He was 90 years old.
His death was confirmed by his son Stephen.
After a career in the press that began with the New York Herald Tribune and ended with The Times in 1986, Mr. Ferretti became an editor at Gourmet and wrote a column called Gourmet at Large.
He immersed himself in all aspects of food, profiling up-and-coming restaurateurs and chefs, offering advice on restaurant diets (according to his story, he’s already lost 50 pounds through healthy eating ), testing emerging products and delicacies, and writing reviews of lavish restaurants so didn’t discover it was still possible to book a table (but maybe not for long if his review was glowing).
His curiosity, if not his appetite, was insatiable. He’s written about the origin of the Girl Scout cookie, how the military turned gagged mess halls into gourmet ones, the impact of gamma rays on meat, and the emergence of a foodie paradise in the growing immigrant enclave. Chinese in Flushing, Queens.
He revealed a prodigious variety of potato dishes served in Ireland, why Hawaiians loved spam and how the ancient Egyptians made pasta. He took a behind-the-scenes look at airline food (which one reader called an oxymoron), interviewed the head bartender at Harry’s in Venice, and profiled Joseph Baum, the consultant of the World Trade Center responsible for feeding a daily potential clientele that was equivalent to the population of Albany, NY
Reviewing several London restaurant guides that offered conflicting advice, he recommended buying all three so that “you never have to agree with Somerset Maugham again, who once wrote: ‘If you don’t mind eat in England, eat breakfast three times a day”. .’”
Mr. Ferretti is the author of several books, including the lavishly illustrated “Cafe des Artistes: An Insider’s Look at the Famed Restaurant and Its Cuisine” (2000), which evoked the charming Manhattan bistro – murals of naked nymphs and everything – which George Lang chaired at One West 67th Street until 2009.
Previously, he relied on his leather diary reporting to analyze one of the major stories he covered for The Times, New York’s mid-1970s financial crisis, in his book “The Year the big apple has gone bankrupt”, published in 1976.
The previous year he had published “The Great American Book of Sidewalk, Stoop, Dirt, Curb and Alley Games” (1975), a guide, written with Jerry Darvin, to street sports – many of which have long since been forgotten – which he played growing up in New York.
“In my day, all it took for kids to have fun was a Spaldeen and a broomstick,” he told The Times in 1996.
Armand John Ferretti, grandson of Italian immigrants, was born March 3, 1932, in Manhattan to Herman Ferretti, a master carpenter, and Theresa (Rossi) Ferretti, a homemaker, and spent part of his childhood in the Queens.
He was attending Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn when he started working as a messenger for The Herald Tribune. This passage, at the end of the 1950s, was interrupted by two years of military service in Japan. Returning to The Trib as a copycat, he adopts the name Fred.
In 1959 he married Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, who became an authority on Chinese cuisine in America. They reviewed restaurants together for the weekly New Jersey section of The Times. She survives him with their sons, Stephen and Christopher, and a granddaughter.
As a rewrite man at The Trib, Mr. Ferretti wrote about Lee Harvey Oswald’s last day of freedom and his capture after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He led the coverage of the World’s Fair of the newspaper from 1964 to 1965 and was chief of the office of the town hall. in 1965-66.
When the newspaper ceased publication in 1966, he wrote for New York magazine. He also worked as a writer, editor and producer for NBC News.
After joining The Times in 1969, Mr. Ferretti earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Columbia University. He was named City Hall Bureau Chief and covered a wide range of events, including the bloody jail riot in North Attica, NY; the nation’s bicentennial celebration and the introduction of legalized gambling to Atlantic City.
In 1971, at the premiere of Norman Lear’s “All in the Family,” Mr. Ferretti, briefly in the role of television critic, wrote: “Tonight the Columbia Broadcasting System Television Network will find out if Americans think bigotry and racism are the main elements of a sitcom, are funny. He didn’t. The racial and ethnic epithets thrown around by Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker, he wrote, “don’t so much cause laughter as they force embarrassed, semi-amused gasps”.
In addition to Gourmet, he has written for Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine and Food Arts magazines and a weekly column called “Travels with Fred” for the Copley News Service.
In 1989, members of Entree, a travel and food newsletter, voted Mr. Ferretti “America’s Best Food Writer.”
For all the serious subjects he tackled, he could sometimes betray an irrepressible cheek.
In 1972, when New York courts were considering banning the film “Deep Throat” as obscene, Arthur Gelb, the Metropolitan Editor of The Times at the time, assembled a select, albeit slightly sheepish, group of journalists to go to a pornographic theater in nearby Times Square. to judge the film for themselves.
“Less than halfway through the movie,” Mr. Gelb recalled in his book “City Room” (2003), “the theater loudspeaker sounded, ‘Mr. Arthur Gelb, metropolitan editor of The New York Times, is wanted in his office. I later learned that it was Fred Ferretti who had mischievously telephoned the director of the cinema. ‘Mr. Gelb is hard of hearing, Fred told him, so be sure to beep him nicely and loudly.