In 2006, I went on a binge of reading food-related books, not all of which were published in 2006.
My favorite by far was The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Useable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by Anthony Bourdain. It’s a collection of Bourdain’s columns and articles that ran in publications in several different countries. Bourdain is a chef who gained fame by writing “Kitchen Confidential,” an engrossing, funny, foul-mouthed memoir of his checkered career in restaurant kitchens (and probably my all-time favorite food-related book). He has since gone on to be a food writer and TV personality with a devoted following.
This was one of those books that made me wish I were still in a book group, because there would be a lot to discuss. While I enjoy and admire Bourdain’s writing immensely, he does tick me off from time to time. My biggest beef (so to speak) is his disdain for fat people, going so far as to write a snide little essay telling fat people not to eat so much at McDonald’s. As someone who has struggled with my weight for more than 30 years, I may be a tad thin-skinned (and that’s the only part of me that’s thin, ha ha) about this issue. But from what I can tell, Bourdain eats a lot (particularly high-fat meat dishes), travels a lot, and works out very little. My hunch is that his lean physique may have as much to do with his genes as with his eating habits. Plus the guy is a chain smoker, former drug addict, and a heavy drinker. Who the heck is he to make judgments about anyone’s lack of restraint?
Then there’s the melancholy essay recalling the seedy Times Square of yore, with its drugs, crime, and porn, as if it were vastly preferable to today’s tourist trap. Bullshit, was my immediate response. I made my first trip to New York City in 1983 and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I visited Times Square last year, and while I still don’t like the area, it is vastly better now. In the back of the book he gives his updated reactions to the columns in the book – and pretty much recants that particular essay. (Speaking of which, the best way to read the book is to read each essay and then flip to the back of the book for his current thoughts about the essay.)
Anyway, this negativity is really nitpicking. Bourdain is a witty, intelligent writer with a knack for telling a good story and putting food into a larger context.
Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. The appeal of this book is that the author wasn’t happy with her life and she dared to try something new, bold, and ambitious. She decided to cook all of the recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, in a year, and keep a blog describing the project. She did all of this while working at a mind numbing secretarial job. Some recipes were delicious and others were a disaster (and, of course, it’s the disasters that make for the best stories). She ended up gaining quite a following and getting a new career as a food writer. Although I didn’t buy a few aspects of the book, Powell is an entertaining writer who tells a good tale.
It Must’ve Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. He’s a former attorney, the food writer for Vogue Magazine, and the arrogant judge who appears on many episodes of Iron Chef America. This is the second collection of his essays. Some of them are laugh-out-loud funny – the essay on his quest to make a perfect pizza had me in tears. Sometimes his subject matter is a bit too arcane for me, but I have to admire his curiosity and intelligence about all things related to food.
Fat Girl by Judith Moore (not technically a food book)
Heat by Bill Buford
My Life in France by Julia Child
The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
I’m always looking for interesting reading material. If you have a favorite food-related book, please leave a comment!