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Give a Girl a Knife

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,016 ratings  ·  317 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  · 
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 ·  2,016 ratings  ·  317 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: memoir, non-fiction, food
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
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
The Suburban Eclectic
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Angie Simmonds
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
Maybe it's me. I didn't hate the book, it was just okay. Amy Thielen's memoir Give a Girl a Knife is about a north central Minnesota woman whose love for cooking has her splitting her time between Park Rapids, Minnesota home cooking and crazy fast assembly line New York gourmet. Each one pulled her for different reasons but none of them were compelling enough for me to read for any more than small bursts at a time. And the most disappointing thing about this book? NO RECIPES!! Who writes a food ...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.
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, food
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
Alex Thomas
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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.
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
For some reason, this isn’t keeping my attention right now. I might try it again another time.
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love cooking memoirs. And this one was no exception. Beautifully written.
I hadn't heard of Amy Thielen before starting this book, but I was interested in reading a memoir by a Minnesota author. The book chronicles her journey from Minnesota to becoming a chef at upscale restaurants in New York. It then delves into her childhood and teens in small town Minnesota as well as her decision to move to the woods of rural Minnesota with her husband to build a homestead there.

The first part started out really interesting and I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look into New
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
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
I took this book out from the library because my wife was getting tattooed by a woman who loves knives and I needed something to read. I figured it was fate? Kind of? I started reading it without reading the description at all. I do impulsive things like that sometimes. This time it worked out for the better.

It was not the story of a femme fatale as I had originally hoped...Give a Girl a Knife is the memoir of a chef who lived the interesting life of a migrant. She spent the summers of her 20s
Lynne Dana
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
The best part about this book was the writing. She tells her story with self-depreciating wit and honesty. I thought the way she jumped around chronologically could have been done better, maybe with flashbacks to rural MN during her NYC time? Ironically enough, I liked the parts of the book most that had nothing to do with her cooking but maybe that is because fancy cooking in expensive NYC restaurants is just not interesting to me. There also seemed to be a disconnect between her life and that ...more
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
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
the most exciting thing to me about this book was the familiarity. Amy Thielen is from Minnesota, studied English at a small private school, procrastinated on her future career, lived *in my neighborhood* for a while, and went to culinary school. THIS IS RELATABLE CONTENT for me. the time jumps in the book confused me a little, but it wasn't too bad. just a nice little foray into a life that's kinda sorta like mine. now I really want to move to the woods.
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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
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