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By Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic
Published January 2, 2008
Still catching up on last year's reading? Laura Reiley has some thoughts on the noteworthy food memoirs of 2007. The Times food critic posted this entry on her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, recently. To read more commentary from Reiley about food and dining out, go to www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining.
It was the year of the food memoir, 2007. Even Camilla Parker Bowles' son, Tom, wrote one. Let me give you a peek: "I look down at my belly. Never taut, it has taken on a worrying wobble."
Everyone wants to remember meals beloved and reviled and, perhaps more important, they want to tell you all about it in lavish detail.
Here are my favorites from last year.
Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love is a book club staple at this point, the audio version narrated by the author herself (who, through some cruel twist of fate, I have yet to meet and become best friends with). As the title implies, the first third of the book is food memoir, the other two thirds given over to more boring stuff like spiritual enlightenment and romance. But whoa, is that first third good, wandering through Naples eating pizza. Noodles, gelato and sloe-eyed Italian men are packed onto every page.
And I can't help it, but celebrity stunt eater Anthony Bourdain definitely gets my motor running. His new one, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, is pure macho swagger with good pictures. Beirut, Singapore, Uzbekistan - with all their attendant organ meats and gustatory madness.
At the end of October I read a great piece in the New York Times about Judith Jones, the legendary Knopf editor who introduced Julia Child, Marcella Hazan and Madhur Jaffrey (oh, and Anne Tyler, William Maxwell and John Hersey) to the world. She was spicy and opinionated and seemed to know everybody. You get the full measure of all this in her recently published The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. A good view into how the average American cook owes her a lot.
Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the story of her family growing their own food in southern Appalachia and "putting food by" for a year could make you feel lousy about how/what/where you eat. This eating locally, minimizing-your-carbon-footprint thing has room for snobbery, but the book is inspirational - a family's team effort with great essays and recipes contributed by her kids.
Close, but no cigar: Phoebe Damrosch's Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter had a lot of room to be funny. Fundamentally, a behind-the-scenes look at the megalomaniacal people in the kitchen (and, come to think of it, probably the megalomaniacal customers) at New York's Per Se (Thomas Keller's East Coast blockbuster) could be mighty titillating. This fails mostly because the nuts and bolts of waiting tables aren't universally interesting (serve on the left, clear from the right, yada yada).
In a similar vein, Kathleen Flinn's The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School just didn't knock my socks off. I think I've hit the wall on those culinary memoirs that are like this: "I was in a career that was insanely lucrative, but it just wasn't my passion. I found food, and now I'm poor but happy."
Not a memoir, but reads like one: The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones is a novel, but it's a novel about a food writer who is widowed and goes to China for a variety of strange reasons. There, she meets a guy/chef, falls in love with him, falls in love with China and - most important - falls in love with Chinese food (convincing us that we should be smitten, too). It has all these lovely food history bits that give context to dishes and traditions we are familiar with.
[Last modified December 28, 2007, 16:48:52]