Kitchen Confidential

by Anthony Bourdain
First sentence: “Don’t get me wrong: I love the restaurant business.”
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Content: There is a lot of talk about drug use and a lot of swearing (including many, many f-bombs. Kitchens are not “clean” places to work.) It’s in the Creative Non-Fiction section of the bookstore.

This is one of those books that I’ve said to myself many times over the years (it was first published in 2000) that I need to read it. I like food books. I like books about restaurants and I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Why haven’t I read it before?

Good question. And I’m glad I fixed it. And for the record: I read the original hardcover (because that’s what the library had) and not the updated paperback.

This is, essentially, Bourdain’s personal story of how he became a chef in New York. It’s not a pretty story. He wasn’t a nice guy. But, he worked hard, and he was a reliable employee, and so he climbed the ladder. And, after he went to the Culinary Institute of the Arts, he moved to New York and began making a name for himself. It was an up and down process, the downs fueled mostly by his drug use, but eventually, he landed a decent stable chef position. He talked about the people he met, and all the jobs he worked, and the dynamics of the (mostly male) kitchen. It’s crass and vulgar and foul, but I loved reading his stories. It made me slightly nostalgic for the time I worked in a restaurant kitchen (worked my way up from dishwasher to prep cook), because there really is a family dynamic to working in a kitchen. I was glad I didn’t pursue it as a career, though, because I don’t think I had the stamina it takes to actually make it in the business.

But this was a fun trip through the New York City restaurant world of the 1970s and 1980s and I really enjoyed Bordain’s version of it.

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Audiobook: Save Me the Plums

by Ruth Reichl
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I adore Ruth Reichl and have since I read Tender at the Bone a very long time ago. (While I was listening to this, I was wondering if I knew who she was before she became the editor in chief of Gourmet, or after. I’m still not quite sure.) She has a way with telling a story (granted: I have not read her work of fiction) and with writing about food. And this book — the memoir of her time as Gourmet editor in chief from 1999-2009, when the magazine folded — is no exception.

Reichl weaves the story of how she became the editor in chief and her experiences with Condé Nast with memories of growing up and her family, both her parents and her husband and son. She tells stories of how stories came to be, of working with editors and art directors and photographers and chefs. As someone who once studied journalism and who has an affection for the profession, I adored this. I loved seeing the inner workings of a magazine (and was wistful: in another universe, I am a food and travel writer, I think) and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she talks about food.

I know some of my co-workers haven’t enjoyed this as much as they liked her other books, but I disagree: this is quintessential Ruth Reichl, talking about what she knows best: food and community.

I especially loved it on audio: she is a fantastic narrator, and knows how to make you feel like you’re sitting with her as she spins these tales. I absolutely loved it and am very sad that it’s done.

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “Babygirl doesn’t even cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, one almost sex-scene, and frank talk about teenage sex. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Emoni is many things: Afro-Puerto Rican. A mom. A senior in high school. And most importantly, someone who loves to cook.

As she starts her senior year, she’s navigating her world: co-parenting with her ex, Tyrone, and taking more responsibility for their daughter. Her relationship with her abuela and her absent father. And her final year at high school. She wasn’t really expecting any challenges, but she is thrown for a loop: her school has just added a culinary arts class. And she wants to take it, but will she be able to handle the pressure from a working chef.

This isn’t a novel in verse like Poet X is but it’s still just as lyrical. I thoroughly enjoy Acevedo’s writing, and her celebration of Afro-Latinx culture. I loved the food in this book, and though she touched on magical realism (I really love it when food makes people feel/do things) she didn’t really go there. I loved Emoni as a character, and her struggle to overcome the results — the baby — of a bad decision she made when she was 15. I loved the support she got from her abuela and friends, and I felt that Acevedo captured some very real emotions.

It was just a delight to read and I can’t wait to see what else Acevedo writes.

Audio book: Kitchen Yarns

by Ann Hood
Read by Nina Alvamar
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro. fm
Content: There is some mild swearing and one f-bomb. It’s in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore, but it could just as easily go in with the cookbooks.

This is a collection of (previously published?) essays and recipes as Hood recalls her life, from her childhood in her Italian American family, through her first marriage and death of her daughter to her current marriage. It’s a very chatty book (which I liked a lot), and while it’s not incredibly linear (she jumps around in time and repeats herself some), it is thoroughly enjoyable.

I’m not sure what made me pick this one up… I do like foody books and memoirs and maybe the combination of the two? (And while the narrator was excellent, I felt let down that it wasn’t Hood narrating her own book.)

As for listening, while I enjoyed it, I might also want to pick up a paper copy, because I want to try out a couple of the recipes, and that’s difficult with just the audio version! But it was a delightful listen, being immersed in food, especially during these winter days.

Sourdough

by Robin Sloan
First sentence: “It would have been nutritive gel for dinner, same as always, if I had not discovered stuck to my apartment’s front door a paper menu advertising the newly expanded delivery service of a neighborhood restaurant.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 5, 2017
Content: There’s several instances of swearing, including a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Lois Clary is a Millennial, stuck programming in a tech job in San Francisco. It’s a get up, go to work life, one that, while isn’t bad, isn’t fulfilling either. And then she discovers Clement Street Soup and Sourdough, and is in love. With the food. Run by a couple of immigrant brothers, it’s something that fills her soul. So, when they unexpectedly have to leave the country, they leave her the starter for the sourdough. It’s that small act that changes Lois’s world. She learns to bake sourdough, and discovers that the starter itself is a bit magical. But more than that, Lois finds a purpose in life, a meaning to everything. She becomes involved with an underground experimental farmer’s market, and works on teaching a robot arm how to cook. There’s a bit of conflict with big business and some over-anxious scientists, but for the most part, this is Lois’s story, her discovering there’s more to life than sitting in a cubical.

Which is really the point of this. It lies at the intersection of those who bake/love baking and those who “get” or are technologically savvy. There’s a strong sense of needing to get out of working with computers to find satisfaction in life, but there’s also a sense that technology is inevitable and working with it instead of fighting it is the way to go. It’s a fascinating balance, and Sloan handles it beautifully.

In the end, this isn’t a deep novel (then again, neither was Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore), but it was a thoroughly enjoyable one. Now to go find a good loaf of sourdough to eat! (Or, maybe I should find myself a starter and learn how to make one…)

Sweet Spot

by Amy Ettinger
First sentence: “Family dinners in my house were a death match.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: I think there might be some mild swearing, but nothing significant. It is in the Creative Non-fiction section of the bookstore.

I knew I had to read this one as soon as it came in, mostly because it hits all my buttons: it’s good writing, mixing history and contemporary observations, and it’s about FOOD. In this case, ice cream. Bonus.

And it was a delightful read. Ettinger knows how to make one involved in the book (not just with recipes!), finding the words to describe the experience of eating ice cream. She’s become, over the years, an ice cream snob, on a continual search for the perfect cone (and the perfect ice cream eating experience). That leads her all over the place, as she looks into the ice cream industry. And it was fascinating. She discovered that it’s pretty difficult for local artisan shops to make their own ice cream base (and most have it shipped in from somewhere else) because of the pasteurization laws She discovered that the best frozen custard, hands down, is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She looked at ice cream truck turf wars in Brooklyn, at the frozen yogurt industry as well as what it takes to make an ice cream sandwich. She looked at corporate ice cream and artisan ice cream. And it make me, well, want ice cream, and to go searching myself for that perfect cone experience. (That said, my ice cream making has gone up since I started reading this. I recommend the Ample Hills Creamery book.)

It really is a perfect summer read.  Just expect to go looking for a perfect cone when you’re done.