Three stars is an average, and a generous one. I really liked the first half or so, dealing with Hamilton's childhood and early adulthood, her travelsThree stars is an average, and a generous one. I really liked the first half or so, dealing with Hamilton's childhood and early adulthood, her travels through Europe and her beginnings as a restaurant chef. But then she starts in on her marriage of convenience (essentially) and her Italian husband, and I disliked her so strongly by the end of the book that I almost didn't finish it.
Look, I get that honesty is good, and strength of character, and all those things this memoir is lauded for. When honesty becomes cruelty and strength of character becomes selfishness, that's when I start to lose interest. When nearly every paragraph about her husband involves making fun of his accent (which she claims is mostly put-on), when everything is "me me me!" and she just doesn't seem to have a clue that there are other people in the world, that's when I want to part ways....more
I really liked this and would love to have given it five stars, but Jones skims the surface in so many places. Maybe it's too nosy to want to know morI really liked this and would love to have given it five stars, but Jones skims the surface in so many places. Maybe it's too nosy to want to know more about her personal life, but the bits she does give make me curious. And I'd have loved many, many more stories about all the chefs and cookbook writers she knew and worked with: Julia Child, James Beard, Madhur Jaffrey, Lidia Bastianich, Marion Cunningham, Claudia Roden...a long and impressive list. The small tastes Jones gives of each person made me hungry for more....more
I was excited to read this, because I love Cook's Illustrated (which Kimball founded) and I thought food history plus the Cook's Illustrated approachI was excited to read this, because I love Cook's Illustrated (which Kimball founded) and I thought food history plus the Cook's Illustrated approach to cooking would be neat. Unfortunately, I disliked so many things about it that I almost don't know where to start.
First, the book is positioned as a tribute to Fannie Farmer, yet Kimball has no respect for her. He refers to her constantly as not much of a cook, but as a great businesswoman. He calls her "middle class at best". He denies her claim to being "the mother of level measurements" based on little more evidence than his feeling that the claim is "apocryphal". And he just flat-out doesn't like her recipes.
Kimball not only rewrites the recipes he does use (which I was expecting), he often uses some other recipe entirely: for example, the lobster l'Americaine is based on Gordon Ramsay's recipe. Fannie Farmer's cake recipes are "rather uninspired", so off he goes to an 1888 French cake book for Mandarin Cake instead. The subtitle ought to be "Creating One Amazing Meal from a Couple of Recipes in Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook and Lots of Other Recipes I Like More". A lot of the recipes do look good, but making a bunch of non-Fannie Farmer recipes is simply not what the book is purporting to be about.
Kimball may be a good cook, but he's certainly not a historian. Each chapter begins with a little historical essays on some aspect of 19th-century cooking, Fannie Farmer, or Boston generally. The essays are disorganized and packed full of unrelated factoids; often the entire essay has little or nothing to do with the rest of the chapter. Why do we need to read three pages on Boston clubs, for instance (other than to find out that Kimball belongs to one)? Every once in a while he would hit on a pertinent topic, like Boston farmers' markets, and I would read those with interest, but even these bits often devolved into long paragraphs of factoids, unconnected facts, and unwarranted assumptions.
But the worst thing about these historical discourses is that Kimball seems to have very little real sense of the period he's writing about. If he doesn't understand it, he thinks it's silly; if their taste is different from ours, it's bad taste; if it's something that doesn't fit into his view of the period (such as their interest in hygiene and chemistry), it's surprisingly "modern". He mocks an early recipe for Indian pudding as "silly" because it directs the cook to let the molasses drop in while singing a verse of "Nearer My God to Thee" (in cold weather, sing two verses). Does he not understand that in an era without measuring spoons or kitchen timers, this is a perfectly reasonable way of measuring molasses?
And he doesn't just have a limited perspective when it comes to the past. The problem extends into the present as well and results in a host of prejudiced remarks. As I've already mentioned, he uses "middle class" as a derogatory term to describe both Fannie and her recipes. He has an ice sculpture of a mermaid to decorate his dinner party; it starts out sporting "spectacular breasts, somewhere on a continuum between the Little Mermaid and Annie Sprinkle" and ends up resembling "a naked woman who has had at least two kids." When he buys calf's heads to make homemade gelatin and ends up with ten instead of two, he wonders why the butcher has so many and speculates: "Was this for some ethnic specialty perhaps, an Ecuadorian feast or a Cambodian stew? Were they being used in some sort of bestial ritual, voodoo or some darker, more sinister rite?" I'm sorry, but did you just equate ethnic food with bestial rituals?
I could go on -- I left many pages dogeared to mark bits I didn't like -- but I think you get the idea by now. So if you're an upper-middle-class white male foodie with a very limited worldview, then possibly this book is for you. If you're not, it probably isn't. It certainly wasn't for me. ...more
Ruhlman begins his exploration of what it means to be a chef by observing the Certified Master Chef test at the Culinary Institute of America, beforeRuhlman begins his exploration of what it means to be a chef by observing the Certified Master Chef test at the Culinary Institute of America, before going on to observe two chefs in depth: Michael Symon of Lola Bistro and Wine Bar in Cleveland, and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in the Napa Valley.
I was most interested in the first part, because of the intensity and drama of the exams, and the third, for Keller's journey toward fame and search for perfection. Ruhlman's food descriptions aren't as good as Ruth Reichl's, but his prose style is excellent, crisp, and witty, and there are some mouthwatering recipes from Symon, Keller, and one of the CIA examinees. ...more
Here, Ruhlman examines the rise of the celebrity chef; he returns to Thomas Keller (memorably profiled in his The Soul of a Chef) and the Culinary InsHere, Ruhlman examines the rise of the celebrity chef; he returns to Thomas Keller (memorably profiled in his The Soul of a Chef) and the Culinary Institute of America, explores the popularity of Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, and the Food Network, and visits chefs Grant Achatz and Melissa Kelly in their very different kitchens and restaurants.
I loved The Soul of a Chef; the wider focus of The Reach of a Chef was less intense and so less riveting, but I liked it a lot. Ruhlman's writing is crisp and witty, and he gets the chefs to open up with him and talk very personally about their lives and their cooking....more
I bought this at the Strand, having heard Richman's name before and hoping it would be amusing; he's a well-known food critic, and this turns out to bI bought this at the Strand, having heard Richman's name before and hoping it would be amusing; he's a well-known food critic, and this turns out to be a collection of his articles (many of them for GQ). Well, it is amusing, in spots; he does have an often devastating wit, and good food descriptions (though I thought there were too many reviews of bad food). I liked a couple of essays about his family, which are insightful and touching.
What I most definitely didn't like is his condescending, patriarchal, chauvinistic attitude toward women, which is unavoidably present throughout the book. A couple of examples I marked (and I could certainly come up with more if I were willing even to skim it again): an encounter with an Asian girl in Shanghai: "an Asian Alicia Silverstone, which meant she was very pretty and going to fat"; on truffles: "If the white truffle is a slattern with immoderate lipstick, the black truffle is a Ph.D. in a naughty dress" -- I mean, what? Objectification much?
It comes to a head in the last article, about a dinner he had with Sharon Stone, which I knew was going to irritate me when he ended the second paragraph with this: "In other words, [Stone:] was a woman who knew how to eat like a man."
And then I got to the third paragraph, which I will quote in full:
"When it comes to dining with women, I have become skeptical. I simply don't bounce back from those experiences the way I used to. Once I was wonderfully resilient, but these days I question the fundamental concept of men and women going to a restaurant together. I even wonder where it all began, when the dinner table became the preferred venue for men and women to get better acquainted. It is now one of the burdens that men bear."
And it gets worse from there -- I haven't even gotten to the bit about how all older women (the younger ones being "callow and indulgent") are "dinner-table dominatrices". I suppose one could take this as tongue-in-cheek and not serious, but coupled with a lot of other remarks, Richman's whole attitude left a very bad taste in my mouth. And I'm not remotely vegan, but the article entitled "My Beef with Vegans" was also incredibly condescending and offensive....more
As in Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl combines memoir and food writing beautifully, with mouthwatering recipes and descriptions along with witty, often pAs in Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl combines memoir and food writing beautifully, with mouthwatering recipes and descriptions along with witty, often poignant reminiscences. I especially loved the part where she goes to girls' school in Montreal and visits a friend's family, where the friend's father discovers Reichl's taste for good food and offers her all sorts of fabulous food. ...more
Reichl, a noted food critic, has written several books; this one is about her tenure as the New York Times food critic and the lengths to which she weReichl, a noted food critic, has written several books; this one is about her tenure as the New York Times food critic and the lengths to which she went to avoid being recognized at restaurants (so that the restaurants wouldn't cater specially to her and she could write a more fair review). Reichl pairs an account of each restaurant experience with the review she wrote for the Times, which was interesting as a comparison.
The food descriptions are marvelous and evocative; I loved how Reichl talked about not only taste, but smell and texture. It isn't just the food that makes this a great book, though; Reichl's disguises bring out unusual sides of her own personality as well as sometimes shockingly different treatment at the restaurants she visits, which makes for some interesting thoughts on restaurant culture and society....more
I didn't like this quite as much as Tender at the Bone or Garlic and Sapphires. There wasn't as much food description, and I wasn't as interested in tI didn't like this quite as much as Tender at the Bone or Garlic and Sapphires. There wasn't as much food description, and I wasn't as interested in the details of Reichl's personal life here as I was in her childhood (in TatB) or her restaurant reviewing and sociological observations (in GaS). Still, there's much food goodness, and I like how she conveys her sense of comfort in food and eating. ...more
My family loves these books, and even a brief snippet from one always produces grins all around. This one has one of our most-quoted passages, in a chMy family loves these books, and even a brief snippet from one always produces grins all around. This one has one of our most-quoted passages, in a chapter on food and cooking: "Another female household-hinter gave a recipe for a big hearty main dish of elbow macaroni, mint jelly, lima beans, mayonnaise and cheese baked until 'hot and yummy'. Unless my taste buds are paralyzed, this dish could be baked until hell freezes over and it might get hot but never 'yummy'." All we have to say is "bake until hot and yummy!" and everyone knows we're talking baaaaad cooking....more
After a marvelous dinner party with Mario Batali, Buford decides that he wants to know more about Batali, cooking, and food, so he signs up as a kitchAfter a marvelous dinner party with Mario Batali, Buford decides that he wants to know more about Batali, cooking, and food, so he signs up as a kitchen slave in Batali's flagship NY restaurant, Babbo, beginning a food odyssey from various stations in Babbo's kitchen to small towns in Tuscany. This was really great: funny, observant, good food descriptions, interesting bits and pieces of old food writing and cookbooks, and full of personality, from Buford himself, whose humility and humor are very endearing, to the larger-than-life characters of Mario Batali, Marco Pierre White, and the aforementioned Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany....more
After graduating from journalism school in the U.S., Lin-Liu moved to China to freelance for American newspapers and magazines. She became obsessed (hAfter graduating from journalism school in the U.S., Lin-Liu moved to China to freelance for American newspapers and magazines. She became obsessed (her word) with Chinese food and decided to sign up for Chinese cooking school...and that's only the beginning of her journey, which takes her through cooking school, one-on-one lessons, apprenticeships in noodle stalls and dumpling houses, and finally an internship in a gourmet Shanghai restaurant.
The book is mostly (and deliciously) about food, but Lin-Liu also talks about the people she meets along her journey, providing a fascinating slice of contemporary Chinese life and of China's recent history. She writes humorously and honestly, and oh, the food descriptions just made me drool! And she even includes recipes -- I may not try many (though I marked a few), but I loved reading them. ...more
Lee started her quest by trying to figure out how dozens of people across America had won the lottery by using the numbers in their fortune cookies, bLee started her quest by trying to figure out how dozens of people across America had won the lottery by using the numbers in their fortune cookies, but she was quickly pulled into the larger world of Chinese restaurants in America and the question of just how Chinese American Chinese food really is. Lee investigates not only the origins of different dishes (like General Tso's chicken) and where fortune cookies came from but also more human-focused stories like the thousands of restaurant workers who make the life-threatening journey to the U.S. from China or the New York delivery people who lead an almost equally dangerous life.
This was a light, fun read, but the lack of organization and scattershot investigative approach really detracted from my enjoyment of the book. The fortune cookie thing is supposed to be the main topic pulling the rest of the book together, but it's often lost sight of for chapters at a time. While I thought the human-focused parts were shocking and eye-opening (for example, the Golden Venture tragedy, which I'd never even heard of), I thought a more intense focus and investigation would have served them much better. Really, even just organizing the book into sections instead of jumping around from topic to topic would have worked better; at least there would have been some thematic unity. ...more
Oh, this was as delightful as I'd expected. It begins when Julia Child and her husband Paul moved to Paris in 1948, when Paul was posted to the AmericOh, this was as delightful as I'd expected. It begins when Julia Child and her husband Paul moved to Paris in 1948, when Paul was posted to the American Embassy there. Julia fell immediately in love with French food and started taking classes at the Cordon Bleu...and thus, a legend was born. She talks about the long genesis of her most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, born of a collaboration with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, and how she got started on television. The whole book is just full of Julia-isms ("Hooray!" "Yum!") and joie de vivre and of her love of France, of food, and most of all, of Paul, who comes through just as fascinatingly as Julia herself....more
Wanting to learn how to cook and to understand what goes on at America's most famous cooking school, Ruhlman arranged to spend time sitting in on clasWanting to learn how to cook and to understand what goes on at America's most famous cooking school, Ruhlman arranged to spend time sitting in on classes at the CIA. There's some interest in the content of the classes themselves (I did really like the baking class), though Ruhlman's account of them are generally way too detailed. And honestly, given that Ruhlman wasn't truly going through the CIA's very tough program, I didn't really care that much about his personal vicissitudes (especially the pages-long description of travelling through snowstorms back and forth to classes).
This was entertaining, but it was hampered by being neither a full biography of Waters nor of her restaurant, and thus being not entirely satisfying oThis was entertaining, but it was hampered by being neither a full biography of Waters nor of her restaurant, and thus being not entirely satisfying on either front. I also missed the sense of taste I like in really good food writing. One gets some of it from Waters' own words (extensively quoted from interviews and also present in a few recipes), but really none from McNamee's prose, and so it's harder to grasp the specialness of Chez Panisse's food. (I found myself contrasting it to the marvelous description of the French Laundry's food in Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef, which helped make the French Laundry and Thomas Keller such vivid presences in that book.)...more