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Give a Girl a Knife

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,198 ratings  ·  337 reviews
A beautifully written food memoir chronicling one cook's journey from her rural Midwestern hometown to the intoxicating world of New York City fine dining and back again in search of her culinary roots.

Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City s finest kitchens for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongeric
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 16th 2017 by Clarkson Potter Publishers
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Average rating 3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,198 ratings  ·  337 reviews

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Larry H
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

About 14-15 years ago (how can that be?) I went to culinary school, and worked as a personal chef for about 18 months until the economy started tanking. At that time, I always had this dream of opening a little restaurant, nothing super fancy. Of course, once I worked at a restaurant for a brief period, that dream died quickly—I thrive on pressure and chaos, but the frenetic pace of cooking in a restaurant, not to mention the pressure of having to always get everything ri
Crystal King
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, non-fiction, memoir
What a fantastic food memoir! I loved every page of this delectable dive into Theilen's journey as she navigated the world of cooking starting in the middle of nowhere and landing in the midst of one of the busiest cities in the world then retreating once more to the rural life where she began. What runs through this book is her true, genuine love of the craft of preparing and discovering food and flavors and memorable dishes. She's a brilliant writer, able to make images and sensations immediat ...more
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, arc, food-health
Amy Thielen is a popular chef, writer, and TV personality on Food Network's Heartland Table. She grew up in rural Minnesota but moved to New York in her 20s to work at various impressive fine-dining restaurants. After the birth of their son, she and her artist husband eventually moved back to Minnesota. In 2014, her cookbook, The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes, won the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Award in American Cooking.

I have to be honest and say that, even after reading this
May 10, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I am not a big foodie, but a enjoy a good meal, and I love a good sip of tea and Give a Girl a Knife suggests an interesting tale as it follows Thielan’s path from a backwoods kitchen in the woods to New York’s finest kitchens.
Sadly, I didn't learn much. I do not feel like I have learned anything about high-end restaurant kitchens nor anything substantial about Thielen. For a woman with an interesting route to chefdom, it provides little insight into her thoughts on how women deal with the intr
Taylor Knight
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher

Give a Girl a Knife is probably one of the most surprisingly entertaining books I've ever read.
I was super curious about this book when I started it and I didn't expect to enjoy it so much that I would read it in one sitting.
I loved how well written this book was and Amy was able to give a lot of great insight to restaurant kitchens. I actually learned a lot and learning new things is always something I'm looking for in non-fiction book. I als
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really unusual memoir because it contains two distinct narratives. In one of them, Amy Thielen falls in love with a "back to nature" artist who has built a one-room cabin in the remote northern Midwestern woods. The cabin lacks plumbing or electricity, and it's winter for about 9 months out of the year. Amy happily joins her husband at the cabin and learns to survive with only the barest necessities. Generally, they live in the cabin Spring through Autumn and use the short growing seas ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: food, non-fiction
Listen, man, I wanted to talk about the NYC food world: the helter skelter of it, the curses and the drugs and the late nights. Basically, I had hoped Amy Thielen would give me the female version of what Anthony Bourdain delivered in Kitchen Confidential. It's no secret that women in the back of the restaurant deal with rampant sexism, aggression, and stark wage difference. I wanted Thielen to unpack that. She had spent a friggin' decade working in some of the best kitchens in the city... wouldn ...more
Jan 25, 2018 added it
Shelves: 2018-reads, skimmed
DNF - stopping around the halfway point. I wasn't finding Thielen's life story, her use of language, or her descriptions of food and restaurants very interesting. ...more
Robin Bonne
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-and-essay
Amy Thielen has vivid memories associated with food, and her mouthwatering descriptions kept me interested in her culinary journey. Just make sure you have plenty of snacks handy while reading, because you will get hungry.
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If a book could crawl straight out of my soul I’m convinced it would be this book. It was already bound to top my favorite list- a Minnesota girl who fulfills her dream of becoming a chef? If ever I was convinced that somebody loved Minnesota more than I do- it is Amy Thielen. Her nostalgic chronicles of childhood in Minnesota and description of the changing seasons were painfully hard to read from the Florida heat. I loved Thielen’s close to home cooking, inspired by her heritage and whatever a ...more
May 31, 2017 rated it liked it
I received this book free through Goodreads Giveaways.

I thought I'd like this book more than I did, as I am also from rural Minnesota and moved to a big city (not NYC, but still). I just thought it was lacking. I enjoyed the NYC kitchen parts the best and once they were done after the first half of the book, I kept hoping she'd revisit her work. Amy Thielen is a good writer and this is a fine piece of work, it just wasn't that interesting to me.

After I finished the book, I found out she had a
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I completely loved this book. Along the lines of Ruth Reichl and other foodie books, Amy has mastered the art of descriptive writing. I read sentences aloud to my husband because the details were making my mouth water.

See my full review on my blog.
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love cooking memoirs. And this one was no exception. Beautifully written.
Melodie Winawer
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not just another chefs memoir, but A paean to The beauty of food, the complexity of family, and the ineluctable pull place of origin.
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Loved the first third and the last third - didn’t love the middle third - so that evens out to be about 4 stars. 😉
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed reading about her time navigating the Manhattan line cook world, and her life in Minnesota was definitely intriguing, but there was a tendency to simply repeat stories from earlier in the book, instead of just simple callbacks, which got wearisome. Those constant repetitive stories took this from 4 stars to 3.
I picked this book up to satisfy a challenge I am doing in a Goodreads group. Foodie memoirs are not something that I would normally pick. I am pretty sure its the first Foodie Memoir I have ever read I am not much of a cook or much of a foodie lol I mean I like to eat just nothing too fancy. BUT I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it probably a 3.5 star book and kept my attention. Although spoiler alert the last part of book almost made me want to go Vegetarian... lol a little too graphic w ...more
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
So fun! My only critique would be the bouncing around in time, I would have liked it to be more linear. Regardless, her descriptions of food made my mouth water (perhaps with the exception of making head cheese), and their house in the woods became almost another character in her story, she described it so well. Very enjoyable read.
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. I thought it would be about cooking, which it is, and the constantly fascinating world of restaurant kitchens, which it is—but beyond that it is a ravishing love story. Amy loves food—not in the way people usually mean when they say that of someone: that the person loves eating. Amy loves food itself, the magical growth of vegetables, the transformations they undergo in cooking, the mysteries of meats and pastry, the sensuous delights of smell and touch as well as t ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though it's nonfiction, Give A Girl A Knife was an interesting sister read to Stephanie Danler's debut novel, Sweetbitter, which I read only weeks before finally picking up Amy Thielen's compelling and beautifully written food memoir.

At thirty-some-odd-years Thielen chronicles her life thus far through the lens of family and food—beginning with her childhood, filled with her grandmother and mother's unique German-meets-Midwestern food, and eventually, moving from college to a small, off-the-grid
Urbandale Library
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
In recent years, I've become a fan of chef memoirs. Amy Thielen's "Give a Girl a Knife" is no exception -- until it becomes an exception. Theilen was an English major, and she knows how to write an anecdote and describe food. For example she captures perfectly the reverence of two line cooks discussing girlfriend built sandwiches and the meaning they carry: "I can't believe she fried you a sandwich," says one. "I know (says the other), according to Thielen "blinking back emotion."
Unlike the test
Alex Thomas
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
In Give a Girl a Knife, chef Amy Thielen recounts her many years cooking in fine dining restaurants and the time she spent living in a rural area. I wanted to love this memoir, but unfortunately it fell flat for me.

What didn't work for me: Although it's obvious that Thielen is a gifted writer, much of the book felt overwritten and too flowery for my taste. The narrative wasn't in a chronological format, so sometimes it was hard to place where she was in her career and life. Some of the anecdotes
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads
"Cities collect culture, but it all begins in the country."
Maybe it's because I grew up in a house that smells like bacon from Thielen Meats on Sunday. Maybe it's because this will be the first Memorial Day in my memory I'm unable to head north to my grandparents' cabin, so Amy's musing on reused ice cream pails made me tear up and call my mom. Maybe it's because I'm itching to get my hands in the soil this week and finish planting my garden. Maybe it's because I live in a city with 125,000 othe
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews, 2018
This book made my Minnesota heart so happy. I found Amy Thielen's experiences working in New York fine dining to be so interesting, but also her Northern Minnesota homesteading stories were equally fascinating. I especially appreciated her nods to endearing Midwest idiosyncrasies (e.g. I laughed out loud reading her ode to the industrious multi-purpose Kemp's ice cream family size buckets found en masse at pot lucks). She so thoughtfully articulated how you can love your dazzling city life while ...more
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I so enjoyed this memoir, and one of the most pleasureable aspects of it was that I enjoyed it more and more as the book rolled on, gaining weight and momentum and interesting stuff to say. Amy Thielen's life as a line cook in haute cuisine NYC leads, then we spend more and more time in her rough-board house (don't call it a cabin, it's their house!) in very rural Minnesota. Food lovers will love this book, and so will homemakers. I did. That is the part I thrummed to most, how Amy sinks in, yie ...more
Kristi Connell
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Here’s the funny thing about going back to your hometown. You don’t just jump into the same old story. You step back into your shadow, but into a totally new narrative. You fold back the new page until it touches the old one, making a twin out of yourself, and then you have to walk around town like that, the old glued to the new. Mostly you forget about it, but then, every once in a while, you feel something flickering behind you, that jelly feeling of your former self.” - page 295

A sweet littl
Shannon Geisen
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A delightful read! Amy's descriptive writing is superb - taste, texture, color, smell. I got hungry every time I read a passage about her cooking. I enjoyed being taken behind-the-scenes of New York City's fanciest restaurants and also the places I already love and know: northern Minnesota. Amy has a great sense of humor. I'm tickled that she shared her creative struggles and successes with us admiring readers. ...more
Anne Sauvageau
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Amy is from my hometown. It was delightful to have her talk about the people, culture, and places I grew up with. Reading of her long hours and experiences as a chef in NYC would make me think twice about a cooking career. She is truly passionate about food and wanting to make it special for those around her. Amy can ignite your senses as she describes the colors, smells, textures and freshness of the foods she uses to create her meals.
Amy Anderson
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm pretty sure this is the first food memoir I've ever read, and I'm pretty sure that if I read another one I'd be disappointed. Every sentence is well constructed and engaging. I almost never read passages from a book out loud to my husband, but in the case, I read several to him. I was also fascinated by how the book is organized: it starts in the middle of her journey, goes back to the beginning, then ends with the end. Great job, @amyrosethielen! ...more
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AMY THIELEN is a chef, TV cook, and two-time James Beard Award–winning writer. She is the author of "The New Midwestern Table" (2013) and host of Heartland Table on Food Network (2013–2014) and worked for celebrated New York City chefs David Bouley, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Daniel Boulud before moving back home to the Midwest. Amy speaks widely about home cooking and contributes to radio pro ...more

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“If people sometimes wonder why Midwestern food hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves, I want to say that it’s not the food, which is generally quite good; it’s the shitty, self-deprecating plastic storage vessels.” 1 likes
“Like classic expatriates, we were a little addicted to the outsider feeling that accompanied every return and our imaginations were always attuned to the place where we weren't. We basically lived in each place with one foot in the other.

Petulant, beautiful, roaring and blindingly arctic, winter in Minnesota is the most histrionic of seasons.”
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