Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Food Narratives--Books You'll Love!

I'm a compulsive reader. I have been since childhood. I can remember my mother having to repeatedly tell me that it was bad manners to bring a book to the dinner table. I have a book stand in my bathroom so I can read as I blow dry my hair. I have a Kindle and a Kindle app on every electronic device I own so I can read at stop lights, in line at the grocery store, etc.... It's a sickness, I know. And it is my very good fortune that my two great loves, reading and cooking, intersect at the glorious genre of the culinary narrative.

So I thought I'd do a little book review for you all, if you have a hankering for something delicious to read. (That was a cheesy, I know.)

  • The book at the top of the stack was a gift from a dear friend. The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard Morais is a novel about an Indian boy in England who is a natural-born chef. It's evidently been made into a movie as well, but I haven't seen it. I love the language of this book, and it adds another layer to the story of English and Indian fusion both in food and in life. 
  • Jacques Pepin's The Apprentice is Pepin's wonderful memoir of his childhood and journey into the kitchen. It's such a light read, but you wind up with a deeper knowledge of the professional kitchen. It's like Anthony Bourdain without the swearing. 
  • Blood, Bones, and Butter is one of the first culinary memoirs I ever read. Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir chronicles her way to the kitchen in grittiest, dirtiest manner possible. Her writing style is very honest and stark and reminds me a bit of Annie Proulx. If Proulx had ever been regularly on the wrong side of the law and an on-again, off-again lesbian. 
  • I have to say it. I hated Julie Powell's Julie and Julia. I loved the film version but did not enjoy the book, which was a startling first for me. The cobbling together of the two women's lives feels more jarring in the book than it did on the big screen, and I didn't find Powell's character very sympathetic in the novel. However, I LOVE the blog she wrote as she cooked her way through Child's most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Anyway, because of that film, I fell in love with all things Julia Child, and My Life in France (largely authored by Child's nephew) is a delightful chronicle of Child's life, travels, and experiences.  
  • My Berlin Kitchen, by Louisa Weiss, is the story of Weiss's struggle having grown up divided between her father in America and her mother in Germany. As a young adult, Weiss struggles with her identity, and her expressive writing style allows readers to see both the allure and shortcomings of both parents and locales. The best part is that each chapter ends with a recipe mentioned in that chapter. Most are of German origin, and they all look quite good. 
  • I picked up Kathleen Flinn's The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks on a clearance shelf somewhere. This is a wonderful book for people who already love to cook, but I think it would be fantastic for the person who wishes they could cook but just doesn't know where to start. Flinn's cooking school begins when she's at the store one day and meets a woman who has no idea how to feed her family anything but processed foods. Flinn gives her a bit of advice and wonders how many other people need a bit of help getting started in the kitchen. Each of her students is profiled as Flinn investigates their kitchens and eating habits, and each chapter covers a kitchen "lesson" where the students learn kitchen skills. The chapters conclude with the recipes discussed in that chapter. 
This is a snapshot of similar books I've picked up but not yet read.

  • Michael Ruhlman's The Reach of a Chef and The Soul of a Chef are in my stack of much-anticipated reading. Ruhlman is a legend in the culinary world. He started out as a journalist who goes to culinary school so he can write about what it takes to become a chef and then goes on to become an integral part of the culinary community. And Bourdain loves him, so I'm in. 
  • The last one, The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella, is about Rinella's year-long hunt for each ultra-decadent ingredient in Escoffier's famed 1903 forty-five course meal. Sounds pretty outrageous, and Rinella is an excellent reporter.
  • Please don't mind my adult beverage or the lovely, low-brow reading at the bottom of the stack. My brain is still on post-dissertation strike. 
I'm always up for suggestions, so what food-related tomes have you read or at least given a passing thought to reading?