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June 3, 2008

The Weary Epicurean—June 3, 2008

Stuart Francis Huffman III, popularly known as the Weary Epicurean, was found dead in his well appointed Hyde Park apartment Thursday, apparently of complications involving a fatty liver, a large dinner, three cognacs, and a Cohiba cigar. He was 22.

Huffman's pseudonymous writings helped to foment a small revolution in University of Chicago eating habits. His distaste for precociousness and frippery in matters culinary—or, as he would put it, for "square plates, tall food, and small portions"—strongly influenced his fellow students, while his fervent insistence on quality stunned many a midnight truck-stop proprietor.

Born the child of a wildly alcoholic gourmand father and an obsessive compulsive Parisian mother, Huffman was conversant with the classics of French cuisine by the age of 12. Also, the family's ancient southern cook instilled in him a healthy respect for classic American cuisine. He picked up his affinity for fast food "God knows where—probably in college," said his sister Chloe Clarice Huffman. "It's rather an embarrassment, really," she added.

His weekly column, written under the nom de plume the Weary Epicurean, advocated a food ethos combining the principles of the Slow Food movement with an appreciation for America's heterogeneous cooking traditions and an intense aversion to physical effort of any kind. Rather than rejecting fast food phenomena like the Polish sausage or the Reuben sandwich as merely distasteful, Huffman devoted much of his writing to unpacking the latent significance of our addiction to such foods.

"You take a place like Harold's Fried Chicken, for instance, and you can approach it two ways," Huffman once said. "On the one hand, you can just say it's fat and salt and leave it at that. On the other, you can do what I do: Wax poetic on the sublime affinity between fried wings, MSG-laced hot sauce, and Miller Lite. You know you love it, so let's talk about why.

"Hell, xanthan gum's just a thickening agent," he added. "If I can use a roux, why can't Hot Doug's Sausage Superstore use fermented glucose?" Officials at the Cimetière de Montmartre reported seismic activity immediately following this statement, suggesting that the corpse of Marie-Antoine Carême may have rolled over in its grave.

Huffman's last meal appears to have featured a glass of Campari and soda, a bowl of Italian straccatelli soup with an egg in it, spaghetti primavera, veal piccata, profiteroles, three glasses of Frapin VS, and a Cohiba cigar. It was apparently consumed alone, in front of a television set playing the Clark Gable film China Seas. Death appears to have resulted from an acute liver failure. "I don't think I've seen a liver taxed this heavily since the autopsy of the extremely obese Hell's Angel that collapsed at the Falcon Inn last year," the coroner's assistant remarked.

Having received a special grant from the James Beard Foundation for "being really amazing," Huffman's post college plans included a horribly wasteful and atrociously hedonistic eating tour through the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. If any money was left after that, he planned to blow it at the cheese counter of Fox and Obel Food Market.

His funeral on Sunday featured Beluga caviar on black olive blinis or toast points, gravlax, an assortment of pickled fish and vegetables, Russian black tea, and Pshenichnaya vodka. The memorial service included passages from M.F.K. Fisher, and his headstone will be inscribed with Elizabeth David's recipe for coq au vin.

Huffman is survived by his two lovebirds, Elizabeth David and Charles Gibson-Cowan, his Neopolitan mastiff, Mario Batali, and a large catfish named Auguste Escoffier.