November 24, 2014
A tribute by Foster’s friend Harry
For the Herald
Forming a friendship with the legendary Herald food critic that lasted a lifetimeDuring the the mid-seventies Bob Cox and I would have dinner together once a week, on Wednesdays, to talk about the general situation, and we would often follow suggestions offered in his column by Dereck. On one occasion we went to a restaurant in La Boca about which he had been particularly enthusiastic, and were horribly disappointed. So I took it on myself to get to know the Herald’s food critic personally, something which happened shortly afterwards and which gave way to a formidable discussion, a case about which we never reconciled up till this day, and simply decided to agree to disagree!
But God saw to it that this first meeting should not be ill-fated, and out of this, somewhat rough, first encounter was born a very great friendship which continued unabated till his departure last Monday. It was not long after making our acquaintance that Dereck started including tips of mine in his columns, referring on every occasion to “my friend Harry,” very often pulling my leg, underlining my rather talkative and temperamental nature with the talented humour with which he always wrote. The really funny thing that happened is that many readers thought that I was a literary creation of his, so much so that, in an article published some years ago in The Bulletin, the ABCC publication, he pointed out that not even Shakespeare could have created a creature like me!
All this said, it is obvious that I have had a front row seat to be able to see Dereck in action, and from this position I was able to observe all of his many virtues. First and above all, he was a profoundly ethical person, in a profession where the devil offers many temptations and to deviate is not uncommon. Put bluntly, he was absolutely incorruptable, and his opinions, even those which could have been debatable, always came from an honest point of view.
Another of his very positive aspects was that he was never a “killer”. When he was negative about some place or product, his language belonged to constructive criticism except, of course, when he came across dishonesty or customer mistreatment. I shall never forget the time I pointed out to him a parrilla downtown which was a real rip-off, and he headed his column “Highway Robbery”!
He was very much liked in the gastronomic world also because he was very sympathetic to startups, helping them with tips and suggestions along the way, of course always for free, being considered “un tipo verdaderamente gaucho.” And some of his one-man campaigns where historical, particularly the “anti-green glass crusade”. Up to some two decades ago, many if not most restaurants of certain renown would have green glasses for serving wine, a remnant of the old French tradition of coloured glasses which would hide the impurities which existed years ago. Dereck went loudly against this habit for many, many years, making it clear that it was impossible to judge a wine’s colour, an important property, if the glass was not perfectly transparent. His campaign was, after a lot of hard and loud work, totally successful. Green glasses entirely disappeared, and this was achieved by Dereck absolutely by himself.
Then there was Dereck the Discoverer. The first ever column written about the Argentine Malbec, as far as I know, showed up in the Herald in 1982 and referred to the 1978 Luigi Bosca Malbec which came on to the market at that time. I know this for a fact because one Sunday evening, in June of that year, I had this wine at the now no longer existent La Palmera in Olivos, and got so excited about it that I called him up shortly before 10pm to ask him if he knew it. He answered that he had heard of it and was about to test and write about it, which he did shortly after. In that column though, he mentioned “my friend Harry” with (fake) anger, because he said that by the time he got back to his TV the film had ended and he would never get to know who the assasin was!
The fact is that Dereck was always in the forefront of gastronomic news. In his last years, for instance, he pointed out that in a decade or so Argentina would probably have one more flagship together with the Malbec: the Bonarda. Time will tell if his reckoning was right and, if so, once again he will have been in the vanguard.
Dereck, the man, was very much an introvert and could, on occasion, be stubborn as a mule. Nobody is perfect. But to end these lines I want to very much stress that he was a wonderful family man and, besides, a great, great friend whom I will sorely miss. Tonight I will lift up my glass, look up to heaven, and toast to my friend Dereck°s eternal wellbeing!