Lately, the only books I have been reading are food memoirs. And by lately, I mean the past… year or so. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you as it is the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. Also, it’s that time when sometimes you buy holiday gifts for people, and I think any one of these would make a lovely present.
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton: This is the book that started me on this food/chef memoir kick. Recommended to me by my dad’s girlfriend, Darla, this is a very well written story about Hamilton’s journey as a chef, the opening of her restaurant Prune in NY, and her marriage. Because this was the first chef memoir I read, I was totally enthralled and unable to put it down, which worked because at the time I read it I was without internet, without TV, and without a job. Hamilton also went to school for writing (a theme among cooks, I’m finding), so the story is very well written, engaging, and beautiful. No one can write about Italian tomatoes the way this woman can.
J: This book reminded me of the power that food has to bring people together and help us celebrate life. The chapters about the author’s childhood reminded me of the parties our “yard” of three families used to host in the summer where we would line up tables in the yard and people would bring food, we would grill, and have a good time.
Heat by Bill Buford: This book is all about Mario Batali. Well, kind of. It’s about Bill Buford, a writer at the New Yorker, leaving his job to follow in Batali’s footsteps. First by procuring a job at Batali’s NY hotspot Babbo, and eventually by traveling to Italy to study under the same little old ladies in rural villages as Batali did. This book is a little more academic in some sense, as Buford delves in to the history of Italian cuisine and the methods of certain dishes. He also teaches us how to properly make pasta and how to butcher a pig (brought up to his NY apartment via vespa and elevator).
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg: I went on a trip with my dad this past summer, and he brought this book, which I promptly stole and started reading. Wizenburg is a beautiful writer, which is one reason I love reading her blog. This book is a series of short stories from her life, all of which mention or are centered around food. What I love about this book is that she shows us her connection to food from a young age, and you see her passion develop from her childhood to adulthood. I also love that she provides recipes for the foods she talks about, making it even easier to connect to her and her stories because it’s so easy to go into the kitchen and make her wedding cake, or make her father’s potato salad. The story isn’t necessarily linear, which I actually liked because it was easy to read a chapter before bed without getting totally wrapped up in the story. (P.S. I made her wedding cake, also called “Winning Hearts and Minds” cake for a friend’s birthday. It was kind of like a very cakey chocolate souffle, or just chocolate butter. It was really lovely, and I totally recommend it.)
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl: If you don’t know who Ruth Reichl is, shame on you. She is a very (very) famous food critic for the New York Times, food writer, and editor-in-chief at Gourmet Magazine. In fact, she has another book about being a food critic that I can’t wait to read. This book, however, is similar to A Homemade Life. Reichl tells us about her relationship to food from a very young age: her mother was a self-taught cook, not following recipes, pairing odd ingredients, and often encouraging her family to eat dishes long after they had gone bad in the refrigerator. Reichl, perhaps because of this, learned to cook, and was known amongst her friends as the one to be fed by. Accompanied by recipes, Reichl tells us stories of dishes from her childhood through her adulthood. I haven’t yet made any of these recipes, but I’m sure that when I do, they’ll be good.
Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas: This is probably my favorite chef memoir that I have read so far. Buying this book was hard for me. I was at Powell’s, looking at their little table of highly recommended or newly released or whatever it was, and I didn’t even pick this book up. Why? Because if you click on the link above, you’ll see the cover, where Achatz looks, in my opinion, more than a little full of himself. But Jonah picked it up (yay for him for literally not judging a book by its cover), read the back, and handed it to me. I was then convinced to buy it. A book about two things I have a relationship with: food and cancer? I’ll bite. What I liked about this book is that Achatz and Kokonas aren’t necessarily the best writers ever, but this story is so cool that this book is impossible to put down. Achatz makes a completely different kind of food (big into molecular gastronomy, which some people hate, I know, but it’s extremely interesting), one that is still pushing culinary boundaries. So to read about the development of these dishes and the method behind the food is really amazing. Also, to read about the business side of opening a very risky restaurant was very interesting. Achatz’s cancer, which I thought would play a much larger part in the story, really came closer to the end, almost as a epilogue or afterthought, but made you root for him even more. Bottom line, this is a cool story about cool food.
Hopefully that can add a few things to your “to read” list! If you have any other questions about these books, ask away!