In 1957, Claiborne began working for the newspaper as its food editor -- taking over a section that had traditionally been edited by a woman -- and he was instrumental in developing the paper's four-star system for rating restaurants.
Claiborne was famed for noticing small details in both food preparation and service, though he was even-handed in his criticism. He also helped introduce Americans to some of Europe's best chefs through his writing.
"He was more than a pioneer," said Michael Batterberry, founding editor of Food Arts magazine, a publication of M. Shanken Communications. "He was one of the very few titans of the century in terms of revolutionizing restaurant criticism in this country and the food pages of newspapers in general." Batterberry noted that Claiborne's system of restaurant evaluation was influenced by the period he spent formally studying fine cuisine and restaurant service in Switzerland in the early 1950s.
Upon Claiborne's return to United States, he began his journalism career as a receptionist at Gourmet magazine. He would eventually write or contribute to 20 books, including the best-selling The New York Times Cook Book. He retired from the Times in 1986.
Claiborne was born in Sunflower, Miss., on Sept. 4, 1920. He remained attached to his southern roots throughout his life and celebrated southern cuisine in many of his writings.
Claiborne willed most of his estate to the Culinary Institute of America.