Food flashback: 60 Minutes dines in 1968

From ordering pigeon to lighting up a cigarette, Harry Reasoner learned the tips of fine dining on the broadcast's first season

This week on the broadcast, 60 Minutes focuses on food. It's a topic the broadcast has covered from the very beginning in 1968: On the fifth episode of 60 Minutes, Harry Reasoner went to dinner with famous food critic Craig Claiborne to learn the art of fine dining.

At the time, Claiborne was the food editor at the New York Times. His writing on fine cuisine persuaded mid-century Americans to expand beyond their meat-and-potato routine. Claiborne also helped define the restaurant review, and his four-star rating system is still widely imitated. In 1968, the advice he gave to 60 Minutes helped Americans navigate how to dine in those highly ranked restaurants.

A lot has changed in fine restaurants in the 50 years since that piece first aired, but some of Claiborne's dining tips endure. Here's what he taught Reasoner in the video above:

A diner can tell a lot about a restaurant by just looking at its carpet.

It's very important that a hot entree be served on a hot plate.

Asking for red wine to be chilled is not a reasonable request. "It's unforgivable," Claiborne said.

London broil should not be served with a mushroom sauce so thick that you have to scrape it off before you get to the meat. "God forbid," Claiborne lamented.

Good service means anticipating diners' needs. For example, when a lady pulls out a cigarette, the maître d'hotel should be ready to light it the moment she puts it to her lips. "She shouldn't have to fumble for a match," Claiborne said.

Pigeon—as in, the gray birds that crowd the steps of the New York Public Library and the light poles in Times Square—is perfectly sensible gourmet order. However, this bird—or squab, as it's called on menus today—is raised on poultry farms, not in Central Park. Claiborne loved pigeon so much that he said it's "perhaps my favorite poultry on Earth." The only thing that makes the bird more sophisticated, Claiborne said, is when a diner relinquishes the task of cutting it up: "I do think in the long run it's more elegant to eat it carved for you."

Finally, Claiborne said it's not gauche to trade bites of one's meal with others at the table in a restaurant, so long as it's done as "unobvious as possible."

Thank goodness! Pigeon, anyone?