Fred Plotkin appointed a Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective
We are thrilled to announce that Fred Plotkin has been appointed a Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective.
Fred’s expertise encompasses opera, classical music, gastronomy, wine, history, culture, travel and anything related to Italy. He is the author of nine books, and has written for dozens of leading publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Opera News, Time, Newsweek, Gourmet, GQ, Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Gastronomica and Saveur.
For Fred, a self-proclaimed ‘pleasure activist’ based in New York City, his appointment as a Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective is about entering a world that builds bonds rather than walls. As he explains here, he aims to use his role to awaken the senses in everyone he meets.
What are you working on at the moment?
Thinking of new ways to engage with the world by learning from practices of the past that we have ignored or forgotten.
You describe yourself as a pleasure activist, which sounds very exciting! How would you define this role?
Whenever I am asked what is a pleasure activist, I respond, “A pleasure activist is what you think it is.” This is not meant to be coy or evasive. Each one of us has a strong impression of what pleasure is, though it seems not to be something we discuss or share. I know what mine is, and I will describe it presently.
Pleasure activism is not about hedonism. There is something mindless and selfish about hedonism that is not in keeping with the spirit of pleasure activism. Similarly, shopping, consuming, and acquisition are not what this is about. In fact, anyone who derives a sense of self from money and possessions will never be truly happy.
Each one of us humans has been given the gift of five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. For those who might have one sense that is impaired, they develop their other senses more powerfully. I believe that most people scarcely use their senses and, as such, miss out on a great deal of pleasure. They see but do not observe. They hear but do not listen. They smell and taste but do not savor. They touch but do not feel.
I believe that the best way to use the senses is to not analyze what is being perceived while we are doing the perceiving. What we take in becomes part of our bank of information, knowledge and experience. When presented, say, with a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine, a new landscape, or music we have not yet heard, we can open our senses more fully and actively to discover the pleasures and complexities that await us. This means putting other thoughts out of our head and focusing our senses on what we are perceiving.
Pleasure activism is also the recognition of the value of things and experiences. One bite of chocolate or one sip of wine is immensely rewarding. The second bite or sip can tell us more if we let it. Otherwise, it is a repetition of the first experience. A box of chocolates or a bottle of wine might prove less meaningful. Fresh air, clean water, and silence only seem meaningful when they are absent — yet few people savor them when they are within reach.
If we meet a new, interesting person and open all of our senses to him or her, we have a much stronger experience of why that person is so compelling. In the media and in our social training, our minds are filled with so many strategies for happiness and success, but they all involve calculated behavior that may be counter to our nature and instinct, which form the sixth sense. When we are alive to all that we see, hear, smell, savor and feel, we refine what we call taste and, moreover, add to that mysterious but essential human characteristic we call instinct.
I would never say that the fullest use of our senses is the secret to happiness and fulfillment. Such an assertion is too pat and general. But any behavior that can contribute to our becoming more fully human and insightful is one that should be prized. And that, to me, is pleasure activism.
What are your hopes for how OCC should develop its focus and impact over time – as an international cultural institute dedicated to promoting better understanding of food and drink?
The word culture is both self-evident and loaded with implications and possibilities based on who is using it and how. Culture is every product of human civilization that has been created either to fulfil a practical need or to gratify and delight the spirit. How they connect—through agriculture, religion, climate, commerce and the irrepressible human urge to create—is everything OCC can strive to be. It is about a world that builds bonds rather than walls.
How do you want to use OCC as a platform for public engagement, possibly in ways that reflect your interests and expertise?
The fundamental gift of the senses gives us commonality. Our senses give us the ability to perceive, to savor and then to share. Whether it is food, drink, music, visual arts, the spoken word or the stupendous miracle that is the natural world, I want to use OCC to help awaken the senses in everyone I meet and see them unleash the pleasure that is the blessing that awaits us.
Fred Plotkin – a profile
Fred Plotkin leads a varied career in which he is a universally recognized expert in his fields of specialization. Whether it is opera, classical music, gastronomy, wine, history, culture, travel or anything related to Italy, Plotkin is much sought-after for his knowledge and the joyous passion with which he shares it. He is the author of nine books, and has written for dozens of leading publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Opera News, Time, Newsweek, Gourmet, GQ, Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Gastronomica, Saveur, and magazines in Britain, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere.
He has worked in opera and classical music for more than 45 years. This included a stint as a stage director at La Scala, Milan [as a Fulbright Scholar]. Then he was Performance Manager of the Metropolitan Opera for 5 years, responsible for running all theater operations at every performance. Later he worked as a consultant for the National Endowment of the Arts, and is the lead opera writer for WQXR, America’s oldest and largest classical music radio station. He is the opera expert for New York Times Journeys, for which he has also led trips focused on culinary history and traditions.
His best-selling book, OPERA 101: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO LEARNING AND LOVING OPERA is the standard text in North America for learning opera. CLASSICAL MUSIC 101: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO LEARNING AND LOVING CLASSICAL MUSIC has achieved similar status and editions in Britain, Japan, and China. Plotkin recorded both “101” books for audio versions released in 2004. He was the opera consultant on the film “Moonstruck.”
Plotkin is equally well-known for his knowledge and writing on Italian topics. He is often referred to as the Italy expert other so-called Italy experts go to for definitive information on everything Italian. His ITALY FOR THE GOURMET TRAVELER quickly established itself as the most complete guide to 504 Italian cities. His other Italian books include LA TERRA FORTUNATA: THE SPLENDID FOOD AND WINE OF FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA); RECIPES FROM PARADISE: LIFE AND FOOD ON THE ITALIAN RIVIERA (which The New York Times called the best cookbook of 1997); ITALY TODAY; THE BEAUTIFUL COOKBOOK (with Lorenza De’Medici), and THE AUTHENTIC PASTA BOOK.
In a “Public Lives” profile in The New York Times on August 30, 2002, Plotkin was described as “one of those New York word-of-mouth legends, known by the cognoscenti for his renaissance mastery of two seemingly separate disciplines: music and the food of Italy.” In the same publication, on May 11, 2006, it was written that “Fred is a New Yorker, but has the soul of an Italian.”
Fred Plotkin is a very popular speaker and lecturer whose appearances cover all the topics he specializes in, as well as many other subjects that capture his fancy. He has worked very frequently with the Smithsonian Institution, leading seminars in Washington as well as intensive study programs in other cities. The University of Wisconsin selected Fred as its First Distinguished Alumni Lecturer, which brought him to his Alma Mater for a residency in November 2007 in which he spoke and gave 20 lectures at many departments of the university. He teaches Italian opera at New York University and has also lectured at Brown, Columbia, Juilliard, Caltech and the Universities of Oxford and Bologna. He has delivered many talks for Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Opera and festivals in Salzburg, Verbier and Parma.
In 2015, he was made a Cavaliere della Stella d’Italia, a high honour bestowed by the Italian government.