Dan Curd has worn a lot of hats in his lifetime. He has worked in advertising, graphic design, political campaigns, at a travel agency, and, more recently, as a food writer. It’s his work as the latter that has now culminated in a self-published book, Standing Fork Salute: A Celebration of 20th-Century Cuisine. With one part food history, which Dan feels is a very under-explored topic, one part travel log, and two parts recipes, Standing Fork Salute feels like the life’s work of a man who has been eating and writing his way through good food for a couple of decades. What it really is, however, is a love letter to his friends, his past, and to a less frenzied life.
Dan was born in 1948 in Kentucky, and growing up as a queer kid in a fifth-generation Kentucky family at that time was not easy. Dan was not your typical little boy, and fondly remembers collecting menus like his peers collected sports memorabilia. For his 10th birthday, he asked his parents to take him and his friends to Simon House, which was the most upscale and expensive restaurant in town at the time.
His memories of a particular aunt, however, are less fond. She hated that he loved cooking and food, feeling not only that it made him more feminine in the eyes of many, but also that cooks were (and still are) considered “blue collar” workers. She wanted him to be a doctor, or something more lucrative, and also wanted to try to impart her gender stereotypes on him, once gifting him a baseball that was promptly put on the shelf and never touched again. “She came from a different world,” he told me. Standing Fork Salute is dedicated to the little boy that Dan was, and all of the other little boys who like to cook.
Madison has been Dan’s home for most of his adult life. Despite a fruitless attempt at graduate school at the UW, he says he kept coming back, making it his permanent home in 1977. Starting out, he worked in advertising, but was not happy or fulfilled. A chance meeting with Dick Wagner at a luncheon quickly propelled Dan into the political world, where he worked for the McGovern campaign, and helped behind the scenes with the first gay rights bill in the country, called the “Consenting Adults Bill.” He worked in politics for many years before running out of steam, and left to work briefly at a travel agency.
Once the internet came along and the bottom fell out of the travel agency world, he started working with the Madison AIDS Network as a development director, and eventually, though he left that particular position, started working closely with Dick Wagner for different LGBT fundraisers. He and Dick worked well together, with Dick working the front of house and Dan putting together the menus and food. Later in life, Dan started writing about food for Madison magazine, and this work, and the research he did for it, is what eventually led to his new book.
Like many of us, Dan felt stranded during the pandemic. Not being able to travel meant that he had a lot more free time on his hands, and having completed a 1400-page volume on the genealogy of his family, he felt that he had more to share. The food writing he did for Madison magazine required a lot of research for small, 300-word pieces, and Dan felt that the stories he didn’t have room for before needed to be told. In a time when most cookbooks are large, glossy affairs featuring slick photos of the recipes, Standing Fork Salute does not have any images, and that makes it special—and affordable to do outside of a large publishing contract. You can, however, find photos of all of his recipes on his Instagram account @danscurd.