The best meals are shared, creating a sense of community. These experiences bring people together to exchange ideas, pose questions, debate passionately, laugh loudly, create memories, and relish in eating good food. Steven Shaw did all of these things as well—his work embodied the spirit of his subject matter.
The culinary world lost an innovative voice on Tuesday. I’m shocked and deeply saddened to lose Steven, who has been a great friend to me and to the entire culinary world.
Steven genuinely enjoyed good food, whether it was a pizza, a particularly delicious deli sandwich, or a provocative Modernist creation at a high-end restaurant. His voracious appetite for both food and writing drove him to leave a successful legal career to become a food blogger, long before that title existed and certainly before anyone was actually getting paid for it. He was an evocative, intelligent author and critic who had a gift for inspiring people to explore, debate, and eat. His early, enthusiastic newsletters transformed into his blog, which evolved into eGullet; the community he created is a true reflection of his passion. His decisions in how to shape and moderate the disparate voices into a managed conversation made eGullet into a forum where chefs, home cooks, and just about anybody else openly shared their knowledge. He was a trailblazer, centralizing our conversations and democratizing our discourse by moving it to an online agora.
In many ways, the inspiration for Modernist Cuisine was born on those forums. In 2004, I started exploring and explaining sous vide cuisine on eGullet. Almost immediately, I was contacted by FatGuy, and, in addition to the public posts, we started to e-mail each other directly. As a result of the experience, I was determined to write a book on sous vide. Steven was a tremendously positive influence on the development of both Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home. He was a sounding-board throughout the writing process, providing thoughtful feedback on early manuscripts. I and the rest of the Modernist Cuisine team owe a great deal to him for all of his help and guidance.
I was also incredibly fortunate to be able to call him a friend. He was smart, doggedly rational, and had a famously acerbic sense of humor—he was a genuinely good guy and a truly amazing person to share a meal with. I have many wonderful memories that were made while sitting across the table from him. I was privileged to dine with Steven in the last weeks at elBulli. Our group comprised chefs and hard-core eaters, but six hours and fifty-two courses after the beginning of the night, we reached our limits. Yet, when the last plate finally arrived, Steven turned to me and said in an incredulous voice, “Is that it?” It was all the rest of us could do to contain our laughter.
Steven has left a lasting legacy. He taught thousands of people how to really love food and his work will live on in the community he built. eGullet is a gift that he created for everyone—especially for me. He will be sincerely missed and lovingly remembered as a legend. He gave so much, but it ended far too soon. If I could say one last thing to him, I would say, “Hey Steve, is that it?”