Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “food writing”

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #28: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

You know you’ve watched too many episodes of “No Reservations” when reading Kitchen Confidential provides the experience of an audio book.  I’ve wanted to read this for years, so was very excited when my book club picked it as an upcoming read.  I was not disappointed.

In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain discusses how he came to focus on food through seminal experiences in France such as eating freshly harvested oysters.  He unflinchingly describes his early years as a grunt in various restaurants in Provincetown and NYC and his training at the CIA.  Along the way, he acquired and overcame a drug addiction while developing a fondness for what many would consider unsavory characters.   Readers who are offended by vulgarity might want to skip this one as Bourdain would make a sailor proud.  Luckily, I am a sailor so I just enjoyed it.

 I enjoyed this book a great deal for the humor, the brutal (no really, BRUTAL) honesty, and wide ranging knowledge shown.  Frequently, I found myself reading sections aloud to my boyfriend – you gotta hear this!  The book made me want to try all sorts of different dishes that I never have.  At the same time, the descriptions of the sweaty, fetid, festering kitchens and the customary cuts and open sores on the hands of the people preparing the food makes me think twice about eating anything I haven’t prepared myself.  Any momentary thoughts I ever had about how romantic it would be open a restaurant – gone.  Never coming back.

One of my favorite parts was when Bourdain shipped out on a last minute trip to Japan to check up on a restaurant for his bosses.  At the time, he had not been doing much travelling and was content as a New Yorker.  His descriptions of Japan, jet lag and the process of familiarizing oneself in such a foreign land was fantastic.  I also really appreciated the many mea culpas he included in the book – admitting to his youthful screw-ups, explaining why other people really are much better chefs than he is, and even saying that despite everything he has said about Emeril Lagasse, he now thinks Emeril really is a good chef who came up the hard way.  This book is not only a great book about restaurants and love of food, it’s a master class in how to do humility right. 

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #6: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

I am well aware that this is the third food memoir I’ve read this year, so you may doubt my recommendation, but this is by far the best book I can remember ever reading about food. It transcends the world of chefs, food writers, or even foodies- this is simply a fantastic memoir that happens to be written by a chef.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at Anthony Bourdain’s review, which raves, “Hamilton packs more heart, soul, and pure power into one beautifully crafted page than I’ve accomplished in my entire writing career.”

Reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, I have come to greatly admire her- a fierce, strong woman who knows how to write and cook, is extremely opinionated and tough as hell, but is feminine, feminist, and a person I’d love to know better. In fact, she reminds me of a woman I deeply admire in my own life, one who has been an important role model and mentor. I would call Gabrielle Hamilton a badass- in the most complimentary way, but I know she wouldn’t like it. When discussing her restaurant work, and working a hellish brunch shift at 37 weeks pregnant, Hamilton writes:

“…badass is the last thing I am interested in being. Badass is a juvenile aspiration. At thirteen, when I was stealing cars and smoking cigarettes I wanted to be badass. I was cultivating badass. At sixteen, coked out of my head and slinging chili at the Lone Star Cafe, I was the understudy to badass, and I knew all her lines and cues. At twenty-five, blow-torching my way through warehouse catering kitchens, cranking out back-to-back doubles, and napping in between on the office floor with my head on a pile of aprons and checked pants, I was authentically badass. But at thirty-eight years old, hugely pregnant with my future tiny, pure, precious son, I don’t want anything to do with badass. I want to be J.Crew catalogue clean.”

After working in kitchens for years, Hamilton earned her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan. Whether her magnificent prose is a product of her education or her unique perspective on people, food, or life in general, I don’t really give a shit. What I do know is that I loved every second of this book. When reading about Hamilton’s life- the respect and love she has for food is so apparent, reading about her summers with her family and mother in law in Italy, a friend’s garden in Michigan and the feasts she cooked from it- I wanted to live inside of the pages, so I could soak up every word, every morsel of detail.

Read the rest here!

 

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #2: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Garlic & Sapphires is another set of Ruth Reichl’s autobiographical vignettes, this time set in the period during which she was the head food critic for the New York Times. Each chapter focuses on a different restaurant review, ending with the text of the original review and usually a recipe from the restaurant, or one that was integral to the story.

In order to review a restaurant, Reichl would visit the location several times, ordering different foods from the menu, going with different groups of people at different times, and often disguising herself. These disguises were necessary to hide her identity as the NY Times food critic – Reichl could not objectively evaluate the restaurant if she were receiving special treatment as part of her job title. The disguises were not so much wigs and costumes as they were complete personality makeovers. In essence, Reichl would become a completely different person, or as she liked to think, a different facet of her personality. One of the characters, Betty, was an old woman so timid she was often completely ignored by wait staff. Brenda, a loud, talkative redhead, was Reichl at her best – friendly, outgoing, adventurous, funny. However, throughout the book, there is a clear evolution and devolution of the characters and toward the end of the story, Reichl’s husband fears that she is becoming her characters. Her dedication to the position of head food critic and its necessary disguises has overtaken Reichl’s true personality.

However, the pull of this book is once again Reichl’s gift for storytelling and her ability to transport the reader to any dinner table. Reichl freely admits in all of her books that she takes great creative license, and while the major events were all part of her life, she often renames characters, changes the order of events, omits important people, and takes great liberty with conversations. This allows her to construct a linear narrative, one that is most certainly not present in ordinary life. Each collection of Reichl’s writing has overarching themes, main characters, and most importantly, excellent food writing. In Garlic & Sapphires, Reichl’s food writing is exquisite. Excerpts from relevant restaurant reviews as well as extended accounts of her many meals at each location bring the reader to the table, and her descriptions of each dish are mouthwatering.

Although Reichl has been criticized for her flowery prose (in addition to criticism of too much artistic license), I think that her writing style is particularly suited to the genre of food writing. Because we are not present at the meals described, have not been to the restaurant or countries that the author writes about, it is especially important for a food writer to describe a meal, a dish, or a restaurant with care. The same problem often appears in programs like Top Chef – how can you judge a plate of food if you can’t eat it? Through Reichl’s extraordinary writing, you can come close to eating the same food, to having the same experiences that she had. Garlic & Sapphires is by no means a perfect book, and it is not my favorite book by Reichl – Comfort Me with Apples or Tender at the Bone easily takes that prize – but it is an interesting look at the world of food writing, and Reichl’s unorthodox approach to the position of food critic at the NY Times.

To someone who loves food writing, I would give this book between 4 and 5 stars – it was a very good book, but some of Reichl’s earlier writing is much better. For the general public, I give it three stars. It’s a good book about food writing, but its appeal is not as broad as to be read universally.

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