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In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life

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I learned that before entering the kitchen, I must get the measure of its hold over me.’

Food can embody our personal history as well as wider cultural histories. But what are the stories we tell ourselves about the kitchen, and how do we first come to it? How do the cookbooks we read shape us? Can cooking be a tool for connection in the kitchen and outside of it?

In these essays thirteen writers consider the subjects of cooking and eating and how they shape our lives, and the possibilities and limitations the kitchen poses. Rachel Roddy traces an alternative personal history through the cookers in her life; Rebecca May Johnson considers the radical potential of finger food; Ruby Tandoh discovers other definitions of sweetness through the work of writer Doreen Fernandez; Yemisí Aríbisálà remembers a love affair in which food failed as a language; and Julia Turshen considers food’s ties to community.

A collection to savour and inspire, In the Kitchen brings together thirteen contemporary writers whose work brilliantly explores food, capturing their reflections on their experiences in the kitchen and beyond.

178 pages, Paperback

First published October 3, 2020

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Juliet Annan

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5 stars
474 (37%)
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189 (14%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 114 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,523 reviews1,771 followers
November 8, 2021
Visually this is an attractive little book, with a bright cover illustration promising notes of citrus behind Mediterranean herbs. Inside there are fifteen or so mini bites, known as essays divided in to three groups - personally I think this was done to bulk out the length of the book overall, but other reviewers say they found it meaningful.

Eventually it was easy buffet reading, I did labour my way through the first piece which was also the most intriguing of the book - a woman telling her lifestory through the cookers that she used. As soon as I finished the second story and perhaps even before I could not remember what it was about, and those first thirty one pages, I noted, had taken me about five days to read. After that I was just spooning my way through deserts until the last word.

My own two favourite bites were Yemisi Aribisala's very funny account of relationship breakdown in the context of conflicting English and Nigerian food cultures with the lip smacking title of "The Long and Short of the Love affair that Imploded because of Eccles Cakes, Three-Quarters of a Quiche and Don't-Cut-My-Leg African Chicken". And if we can pausing our chewing for a moment we can maybe easily imagine how central food culture is in the success or failure of a relationship, so it is not a surprise to find that many of these snack essays are about relationships; romantic, familial, or social. The other favourite was Rebecca Liu on "The Future of Food" which opens with a comparison between the advertising posters in the metro systems of Hong Kong, Beijing, and London before breaking into an account of the impact of a food-meal delivery box service on the lives of herself and her boyfriend and how eventually this product of an alienated Capitalist culture comes to be for her an escape from alienated Capitalist into a world of community and creativity through becoming confident in the kitchen and cooking for others (and herself). The company whose food-meal-box service she uses might not use her piece as advertising, because in the end she outgrows it rather than remaining dependant on its cardboard enclosed delights.

Thinking about it the piece about the horrors of all you can eat buffets is interesting in that it is not about the delight in excessive eating and indulgence like something from Rabalais, but instead the dominant tone is self-disgust, there isn't the self-confidence to be joyous in indulgence, no doubt a sign of how central the idea of self-control, at least for the less wealthy in society, has become to British food culture.

On the whole this is the kind of book that you can consume between meals and that won't spoil your appetite for other reading, like the plate of party food it tantalises and intrigues more than it delights or satisfies, but that is probably the spot on the tongue that you want to hit with a book of essays.
Profile Image for Emily.
200 reviews19 followers
November 16, 2020
'I would make her a cup of tea without asking her whether she'd like one or how she takes it, which is in and of itself a profound intimacy [...] To know how someone else takes their tea - tea or coffee; milk or sugar or lemon - is a small and delightful privilege because it's a fact of too little consequence to be ferreted out except with small repeated acts of care.' Ella Risbridger, Cupboard Love
I loved this collection of essays. At a time when the most exciting part of my day is often cooking a favourite dinner or trying something new and one of the things I miss the most is eating with other people, I found these essays both funny and moving.
Profile Image for Karen Foster.
663 reviews2 followers
December 5, 2020
Well... that was completely delightful! 😍
Those that know me, know I rarely read Non Fiction.... but when I do, it’s more often than not about food! Food writing speaks to my soul.... and this lovely collection was moving, mouthwatering, diverse and fascinating in equal measures.
#pop2020 #anthology .... just the AI prompt to finish now.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
622 reviews291 followers
June 9, 2022
This was a purely soul-filling, comforting read! Absolutely comforting and delightful.
“A kitchen is a space of great ambition, of patience, of comfort, and of failure. During weeks when one cannot go out, a kitchen takes on different qualities throughout the day. In the mornings, the room feels light and full of possibility, benches hastily cleared from dinner the night before, morning sun touching the tiles. In the kitchen, memories live in the body, just under the skin and under the tongue. Scents and residues from childhood rub off on our hands.”

Excerpt from: "In the Kitchen: Writing on Home Cooking and More" by Yemisi Aribisala. (112/143) Scribd. This material may be protected by copyright.

Read this book on Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/501239518
Profile Image for Sandrine V.
68 reviews114 followers
January 6, 2021
The first section, Coming to the Kitchen, was my absolute favourite. Including Juliet Annan’s essay on publishing cookbooks, and Ella Risbridger’s one on the concept of kitchen intimacy with the following quote that I found particularly charming:

“To know how someone else takes their tea - tea or coffee; milk or sugar or lemon - is a small and delightful privilege because it’s a fact of too little consequence to be ferreted out except with small repeated acts of care”
Profile Image for Sophie Harrington.
9 reviews1 follower
December 27, 2020
“There is something about the kitchen that invites intimacy. I suppose kitchens are a space for intimacy because I will touch with my hands the things that will go in your mouth; I will taste what you taste; I will work for you, or you will work for me. I will make this for you because I love you, because you need it, because you want it.” - Ella Risbridger, ‘Cupboard Love’.
Profile Image for aqilahreads.
532 reviews41 followers
July 28, 2021
bringing together all 13 contemporary writers, this is a collection of essays exploring on food & life - capturing their reflections in the kitchen and beyond.

rouding this up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5. reading this felt like a roller coaster ride lmao bc i find myself getting into some of the stories but there are also stories where i felt that they are less interesting to read. i love the fact how they split the stories into 3 parts though - coming to the kitchen, reading & writing the kitchen and beyond the kitchen.

i personally love the beyond the kitchen section the most bc i was pretty much invested in the stories as it relates to the community & how cooking means a lot to one's life. this would certainly be such a joy to read if you love to cook or if youre a food lover.

"when i reflect deeply on this lifelong love affair with cooking, one of the most remarkable things i see is that cooking has for me always been as much about people as its been about food. cooking is a tool for connecting us all together".
Profile Image for Laura.
49 reviews
July 10, 2021
reading one of these essays whilst eating your breakfast is bloody delightful
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,664 reviews177 followers
September 27, 2021
Any reader of my reviews will already know that I am consistently drawn to themed anthologies. I am also a huge fan of food, both of preparing and eating it. It was inevitable, then, that I would pick up In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life, which brings together original pieces by many different authors. The gorgeously designed book has been released by the publishing arm of Daunt Books, and it looks to be part of a small series of anthologies on specific themes. I have already read and loved At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond, and hope to be able to pick up In the Garden very soon.

The book's blurb declares that food 'can embody our personal histories as well as wider cultural histories. But what are the stories we tell ourselves about the kitchen, and how do we first come to it?' The collection aims to explore whether food, and the process of cooking, can be 'a tool for connection', both in the physical space of the kitchen, and in the wider world.

In the Kitchen features work from new-to-me authors, as well as those whom I have read and enjoyed before - Daisy Johnson, Ruby Tandoh, and Nina Mingya Powles, to name but three. There are thirteen essays in total, and each considers various aspects of cooking and eating, and 'the possibilities and limitations the kitchen poses.' Throughout, the authors discuss their experiences of cooking in a particular kitchen, or simply being present in one. Almost every essay is bound up with memories; they seem inextricable from the process of using the kitchen as an adult.

I love the way in which each of the included pieces are so very different. In 'A Life in Cookers', Rachel Roddy writes about the ovens which she has lived with, from 'the heavyweight comforter' of an Aga in her childhood home, to 'a cream and green electric cooker with hot plates like liquorice whirls' owned by her grandparents. On said cooker, her grandmother 'boiled tongue for hours and made pan after pan of a minced beef and potato stew called tattie hash, the smell of which clung to the wallpaper like a pattern, along with worry and love.' In Ella Risbridger's essay, the author details the sensuality which often strike her when she is in the kitchen: 'There is something about the kitchen that invites intimacy. I suppose kitchens are a space for intimacy because I will touch with my hands the things that will go in your mouth; I will taste what you taste; I will work for you, or you will work for me. I will make this for you because I love you, because you need it, because you want it.'

In 'The New Thing', Juliet Annan - who taught herself to cook using often vague Penguin paperbacks - details some of the questionable menus which she made for friends in the late 1970s: '... October 14 is Whiting and Fennel Soup, followed by Stuffed Cabbage, followed by Apple Steamed Pudding; very heavy. It makes me wonder about central heating - did we not have any? - but even on a summer's day I see the menu was: Lettuce and Hazelnut Soup, Spiced Chicken with Tomato Salad and New Potatoes and then Baked Alaska and Fruit Salad.' Annan goes on to remark: '... I was cooking dinners like this at least twice a week: the suet pudding years, and I was turning into one.'

Daisy Johnson writes about rituals surrounding food, such as her family's tradition of making pizzas from scratch on Christmas Eve. She says that this tradition is 'older than I am and has changed as my siblings and I have grown.' Johnson goes on to comment that writing about food is 'almost impossible', and difficult to capture: 'I would like to write about the ritual of food. I would like to write about how food rituals grow and about the ones that I have grown with my family and friends. I would like to write about how these rituals have come about seemingly without discussion and are now almost impossible to break.'

In 'Steam', Nina Mingya Powles talks about the foods bound up with her Asian heritage, and the almost endless variations of the same dish which can be found from one country to another. She tells us, in her rich and careful prose: 'My most treasured childhood foods are steamed: dumplings, bao, parcels of sticky rice wrapped in leaves, silky cheung fun. Somehow, steaming feels more alchemical than other ways of cooking.' As with Powles, for many of these authors, food is deeply connected to their treasured memories, and to fostering a sense of community at different points in their lives. Powles captures this beautifully when she writes: 'In the kitchen, memories live in the body, just under the skin and under the tongue. Scents and residues from childhood rub off on our hands.'

Rebecca Liu takes a different tack, exploring the recent phenomenon of recipe boxes in her essay. Laura Freeman ponders over the diets of famous writers; for example, Iris Murdoch's 'surprise pudding', which she served to her friends, and which turned out to be 'a single Mr Kipling cake'. Ruby Tandoh writes of Doreen Fernandez, who 'travelled widely across many of the 7,641 islands that comprise the Philippines, documenting the ways in which multiple cultures (and multiple colonisers) have... often synthesised to create the diverse and endlessly inventive foods of the country.' The essayists draw their inspiration from a wealth of different sources - films, literature, love affairs, or the country of origin of a former partner, for example.

The separate essays have been arranged into three sections, entitled 'Coming to the Kitchen', 'Reading and Writing the Kitchen', and 'Beyond the Kitchen'. So many of the authors have been wonderfully inventive and, as I have demonstrated above, have gone in very different directions in what they have explored here. A loose structure, such as the one which the separate sections gives, is effective.

I found In the Kitchen both immersive, and highly entertaining. I was awed by the variety which it contained, and took something particular from every single piece. Every essay made me contemplate something, and - as well as making me feel very hungry! - connected me with a lot of memories in the various kitchens which I have known during my lifetime. I can only hope that Daunt Books expand this as-yet small collection, and in the meantime, I look forward to reading much more of the publishing house's back catalogue.

If you are a self-confessed foodie, like I am, In the Kitchen will be an incredibly valuable addition to your reading life. I relish books like this, which push me in the directions of different cuisines which I am not as familiar with as I would like to be, recipes which I have not yet tried, and techniques which I have not explored in my cooking. I very much look forward to implementing everything which I have learnt from this excellent collection in my own kitchen.
Profile Image for Ashley.
236 reviews63 followers
February 1, 2023
Such a delight! A really excellent collection of essays that made me feel so warm and peaceful. I have a renewed appreciation for cooking and for the objects in my kitchen, like spices and salad bowls and tea bags and bread—and above all, for my stove, which brings all my meals to life, whether they be traditional or experimental, delicious or... decidedly not.

The last essay (by Julia Turshen) was probably the weakest one, but by the time I came to it I had so enjoyed myself in the domestic comforts of this collection that I didn't really mind.

My favourite essays were: "Cupboard Love," "The Future of Food," "Brain Work," "Ritual," "The Long and Short of the Love Affair," and "Who Are You When No One is Looking?" (this last one made me chortle).

P.S. The essay "Against Roast Chicken" made me completely rethink the film Mermaids, which I originally thought was a mediocre 1990's rom-com, but I'm now beginning to think might have been an overlooked feminist classic in disguise.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,161 reviews35 followers
November 7, 2021
Another lovely collection of essays from Daunt Publishing. This is the second of three books with similar cover art and collecting essays on a wider topic - At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond being the first and with In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing being the latest.

I've not read too much food writing in book form, but I'd describe the style and content as quite relaxed and informal, focusing on the feelings and memories evoked by food and cooking. Favourites included essays by Nina Mingya Powles, Rachel Roddy and Daisy Johnson. If you enjoyed Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai or Crying in H Mart I'd venture that this collection would be up your street too.
Profile Image for Amy.
83 reviews4 followers
May 23, 2021
lovely little read! joel golby's contribution was my fave :)
Profile Image for Molly Fleet.
25 reviews1 follower
March 24, 2022

Special mentions go to:

"Cupboard Love" by Ella Risbridger. Finished it and went right back to the start to immediately read it again. A true romantic in this day and age!

"Our Grief Books" - Mayukh Sen

"Against Roast Chcken: An Hors d'Oeuvres Theory of Cooking" - Rebecca May Johnson

"Tikim Nang Tikim" - Ruby Tandoh

"The Long And Short of the Love Affair that Imploded because of Eccles Cakes, Three-Quarters of a Quiche and Don't-Cut-My-Leg African Chicken" - Yemisí Aríbisálà

"Who Are You When No One Is Watching?" - Joel Golby, "There's hummus on my shed. There's hummus on my shed!"
Profile Image for Dylan Kakoulli.
422 reviews38 followers
February 19, 2021
Had a real craving for something light and digestible and this book definitely hit the spot!

In the kitchen is delightful collection of personal, bite size culinary stories. Each essay reflects on the universal, meaningful connections and experiences that can be had from food -whether that’s through cooking, eating or sharing.

Such as the way with trying a new dish, not every story was to my taste. That said, because of the sheer variety of topics covered, there’s bound to be at least one that’ll tickle your tastebuds!

A stand out for me was Joel Golbys amusing take on buffets -had me in stitches!

On the whole this was a satisfying and comforting read. One to savour and enjoy, full of heart, Warmth and nostalgia.

Though I will warn you, it MUST be accompanied alongside some type of food!

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Billie.
58 reviews6 followers
January 8, 2021
This collection of essays reminds us of what everyone has rediscovered in this turbulent year the personal but universally sentimental relationship we have with food. This guides us through burnt fingers, first ovens and treasures the mishaps along with the triumphs, the greasy buffet as much as haute cuisine.
Profile Image for Becca.
82 reviews12 followers
October 18, 2020
Found some of the essays to be a lot more enjoyable and evocative than others though I enjoyed the variety of responses to the theme and found a lot of warmth, nostalgia and heart in many of them. Such a great idea for a collection of essays.
102 reviews11 followers
November 7, 2021
If I were to describe this book in one word, it would certainly have to be forgettable. It was not bad per se but also there was nothing in particular to capture my attention. All in all, it was a short and sweet read that I don’t regret reading, but also one I know I’ll never go back to.
Profile Image for emily.
340 reviews199 followers
January 13, 2021
There's something for everyone in this book of cozy essays. I got this book as part of a Christmas gift/parcel from one of my dearest/favourite people in my life. Read it all at once on a slow afternoon - on another ordinary day in this pandemic stricken world. There's something about 'food' stories that binds and triggers the loveliest memories.

"When I say I love you I mean I need you to make me a roast the way you always do. When I say I love you I mean can you go to the fish shop and get oysters which we can eat with martinis. When I say I love you I mean thank you for bringing over this loaf of bread which I was desperately in need of." - 'Ritual', Daisy Johnson.

Johnson's essay/story was one of the better essays in this book for me, or at least - one that I connected with most. I think how I spend mornings with another person are great indicators of how I feel about the other person (vice versa). I can easily recall my best mornings featuring food. One of them being one of the days - during my first-year in uni. when one of my mates stayed over in my tiny shoebox-sized room. He sneaked out early in the morning and came back with big brown paperbacks filled with the whole menu of McDonald's - and he was like 'I didn't know what you liked, so I got us everything on the menu' in like the most casual way ever.

On another occasion, I was staying over at another mate's flat in Manchester. We had spent the day in multiple art galleries, and then slept pretty badly because his flatmate's ex-girlfriend was ugly crying outside the flat all night. I slept in the next day but woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee (to my taste - hot, black, no sugar). And he made me the best breakfast anyone has ever made me. He soaked quinoa the night before to make the meal as well (and I didn't realise this because I was probably in the shower). I didn't finish it because he gave me a massive serving, and then he finished my leftovers (even though that's his second breakfast of the day!). And then he was like - 'Do you want a fry-up? I can make that as well if you want it,' thinking that I didn't enjoy his vegan cooking. It's 100% one of the best/most memorable mornings I've had (and I'm - extra difficult in the morning).

"My theory with breakfast buffets, more than any other buffet at any other time, is that they reveal the deepest and darkest crevices of you, your true nature... Do you not understand? Do you not see the monster in me, poking at you? I sit and pretend I'm a healthy person wishing to live a calm and structured life (melon w/ yoghurt, some semi-healthy granola)." - 'Who Are You When No One Is Watching?', Joel Golby.

I didn't think I'd enjoy Golby's essay as much as I did. I thought I would like Mingya-Powles' the most because she's the only one whose book I've actually (previously) read. But that wasn't the case either; I actually found her piece a bit boring. Golby's one is arguable my favourite one out of the bunch. I love breakfast buffets. Like Golby, I think breakfasts/breakfast-time truly reveal a lot about a person/people, and their relationship with one another. I stayed a few nights in a fancy hotel in the middle of a financial hub with a mate at the beginning of the pandemic because I had something that I had to get done urgently around the area. The breakfast buffet was actually rather disappointing but it was good fun because the company was good. I remember him wiping down everything with alcohol wipes before and after the meal because he knew that I'm a bit of a hypochondriac - and that I fully appreciated that. He laughed at my insecurities in the best way possible instead of making me feel worse for having them.

Surely each of us have stories of food of our own to share/tell/compare - like pandemic takoyakis/pasta/bread made through video calls. But at the end of it - the point is that - food stories are strong binders in human connections. I think this book of essays/stories would appeal to anyone as it is quite a diverse bunch of writings. I didn't enjoy the earlier essays/stories so much, but/and I personally think that the best bits are the ones further to the end of the book hence the 4-star rating.
Profile Image for Jasmine Harrop.
30 reviews5 followers
January 8, 2021
I read Golby’s essay back in October, and enjoyed the anecdotes that were utterly relatable to a northern family and all that are included in the notion of putting on or eating a spread.
I decided make the rest of the curated book of essays my first of the new year after a festive period of finding comfort in food, at a time when the kitchen was one of the places to visit in a time of confinement. And, it was a warming experience, the whole collection negotiating personal experiences of nostalgia, rituals and community all found in food.
The first section Coming to the Kitchen as a whole was my highlight (Roddy’s structure appreciated and Ella Risbridger’s writing poetic). And, with Ritual and the Food is a Bridge to Community also standing out to me personally.
Profile Image for The Contented .
541 reviews10 followers
December 14, 2020
Ok. Yemisi Aribisala’s essay made me laugh out loud. Otherwise this was really rather forgettable.

Also, for a collection of essays trying hard to be stamped “diverse” (otherwise the food, as in the buffet chapter, would have been pretty dire), it’s noteworthy that there isn’t any Muslim representation. None at all.

Hmm, they only make up about 26% of the world’s population, and probably more of its foodie population, given that the size zero wannabe thing is usually healthily absent. Food, community, feasts - but no mention here. From Jakarta, to Mombasa, to Istanbul and Marrakesh. Nothing.

Profile Image for Bookish Bethany.
207 reviews20 followers
March 28, 2021
A magnificent collection of musings on the everyday - life and love in the kitchen. The joy og opening a well-thumbed cookery book, the joy of simple things - a mug of tea, a digestive, a meal deal on a lunchbreak. A beautiful, beautiful collection of essays.
Profile Image for Liv Turner.
59 reviews5 followers
May 23, 2021
I love books, I love food, I love books about food. This is a warm, thoughtful collection of essays by writers I already like (Nina Mingya Powles, Ruby Tandoh) and others I had never heard of. There isn't a bad one in the bunch!
Profile Image for Sophy H.
1,180 reviews60 followers
August 24, 2021
Like the gardening collection, this selection of short essays on food and cooking is short but sweet.

Lots of discussions of memories, family, loss, remembrance, friendship and love.

Food is healing and kitchens are the ultimate treatment rooms.
Profile Image for Kate.
325 reviews9 followers
June 3, 2021
Really lovely. Tasty and charming.
140 reviews
January 9, 2022
A lovely essay collection, with lots of very beautiful and interesting reflections on how food relates to our personal, family histories, as well as broader cultural stories and histories. I especially enjoyed Ruby Tandoh on learning about Filipino food (and the limitations of translating language to do with taste) from a partner. Rebecca Liu's essay "The Future of Food" was also a very engaging, relatable commentary on the ways cultural narratives around food have shifted towards speed and convenience over taste and pleasure, and the possible antidotes to this. But really, every essay is a unique and valuable contribution to the whole.
Profile Image for Mich.
39 reviews
March 10, 2021
A nice light read to dip your toes in, and which offers space to reflect on the captivating and complicated joys of food. I feel bad blanket-rating the whole collection as some essays stood out for me more than others (lol, still gonna rate it tho).

I'll leave you with a quote of a quote by Doreen Fernandez: 'Writing about food should not be left to newspaper food columnists or to restaurant reporters [...] For it is an act of understanding, an extension of experience. If one can savour the word, then one call swallow the world.'
Profile Image for Astrid Lim.
1,041 reviews45 followers
August 29, 2022
3,5 stars!

Some of the writings are really good, especially the last part of the book. A few of them are too rambling for me, it's hard to relate with the writers and their topics. Overall, a nice little collection with food and cooking as the central theme. Recommended for all kinds of food lovers.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 114 reviews

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