Meryle Evans / June 2000
Food Arts presents the June 2000 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Jan Longone in recognition of her scholarly determination to preserve and honor American culinary literature. For the past 28 years, as founder and owner with her husband, Dan, of The Wine and Food Library, a world-renowned antiquarian culinary bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Longone has generously shared her knowledge, enthusiasm, and expertise with countless food professionals, scholars, private and corporate collectors, and even lawyers in need of an expert witness. Meticulous research and keen judgement, combined with a gift for making food history come alive, have made Longone an invaluable resource. She is on the phone daily with prominent chefs and restaurateurs who call as often to pick her brain as to buy books.
"This is quite thrilling to me," Longone says, in her exuberant Boston accent. "Perhaps they're changing a menu, starting a restaurant, looking for new ideas or solutions, or want advice or suggestions." Those requests usually mean hours pouring through some of the 20,000 volumes housed in Longone's home/shop where she conducts her largely mail-order business.
Another rewarding commitment has been "collection development" for companies such as Tobasco (for whom she has assembled a library of classic community cookbooks); for cooking schools; for specialists in, say, black or Jewish materials; or for clients seeking rare first editions.
Now Longone has a new collecting mandate and a new honor: she has been appointed Curator of American Culinary History at the prestigious Clements Library at the University of Michigan, a splendid repository of original source materials—books, manuscripts, maps, and memorabilia—relating to American history.
"This first-of-its-kind position underscores the increasing importance of the study of food history today," says Clements Library director John Dann, who considers his new curator "a national treasure." Longone's initial goal is to build up the collection, which already contains many rare cookbooks, and then make it more user friendly.
Jan and Dan Longone are a symbiotic duo, sharing a passion for books, an electric curiosity, and a love of good food and wine. Dan, a retired professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan, is a wine connoisseur and authority. Their gastronomic expertise evolved from graduate studies at Cornell University, where they often entertained foreign students with home-cooked American meals, to the sold-out culinary courses they offered at the University of Michigan. The research books they collected begat the bookshop. Always on the go, the Longones roam Europe and America, lecturing, prowling for antique books, and serving on boards of culinary organizations. What have they discovered on recent trips? "There is increasingly serious interest in our culinary past from all segments of society," says Longone, "from the kids in elementary school to professional chefs."