Food Culinary 06

Robert Debenham Shoffner

November 13, 1942 ~ March 26, 2021 (age 78)


Revered—and in some quarters feared—Washington food-and-wine writer Robert Shoffner passed away March 26, 2021, in Naples, Florida, following a long illness. Robert wrote about wine and food for the Washingtonian Magazine from 1976 to 2008, primarily covering restaurants in the District of Columbia.

Argentinian by birth, Robert lived with his parents, Robert and Gabrielle Shoffner, in Buenos Aires and attended St. Andrew’s School, where classes were taught in both Spanish and English, from ages 4 to 18. His culinary education began early in life, dining with his parents at fine restaurants in various parts of the world. His mother had attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in preparation for married life. One of Robert’s favorite childhood memories was watching the wagon trains come across the pampas on his grandfather’s ranch carrying the year’s release of wines from Europe.

The family moved from troubled Argentina to the Charlottesville, Virginia, area when Robert was 18 years old. There he attended the University of Virginia, studying English literature and journalism, and wrote a thesis on the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. The always well-dressed Shoffner, most often attired in a three-piece suit and tie, continued traveling the world, absorbing the cultures—and the food and drink—of many nations. It helped that he spoke English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.

Returning to the Washington region, Robert worked in the wine department at a liquor store in Maryland. In 1976 he was hired as a food-and-wine writer by Washingtonian founding editor Laughlin Phillips, a role Robert excelled in for 32 years. His widely read reviews had significant impact in the restaurant community, among many other things helping spark the rise of renowned chef and restaurateur José Andrés, now best known as founder of the disaster-relief World Central Kitchen. In the early 1980s, famed chef Jean-Louis Palladin refused to cook for Shoffner after an unflattering review of his restaurant, Jean-Louis at the Watergate.

Shoffner enjoyed sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of wines and cuisines with friends, often along with a bottle from his personal cellar. One of his good friends was Richard Olney, a noted author of books on cooking and wine whom Robert often visited at his home in Provence.

Among the many honors bestowed on him, in 1985 Robert was awarded the Médaille de Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite Agricole at the French Embassy in Washington for his writings on French wines.

Robert is survived by his wife of 29 years, Jo Hutchins Shoffner, and his devoted terrier, Paris, in Naples, Florida, where the family has lived since 2011.

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