Monday, January 17, 2011

Reading Lists - Culinary Memoirs

Culinary memoirs are a branch of food writing in which the personal story of a great chef, struggling home cook, or knowledgeable foodie is explored. Like other food writing, culinary memoirs focus on the importance, preparation, consumption, or meaning of food — often including recipes or other types of suggestions.

52 Loaves by William Alexander
Alexander chronicles his attempts to bake the perfect loaf of bread, including growing, harvesting, and milling his own wheat. During his quest, he attends a kneading conference in Maine, spends time in a French monastery, and goes to Morocco. His bright writing highlights a pleasing variety of comical misadventures. As Alexander sums up, "Bread is life.”

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Best-selling novelist Kingsolver and her family moved from Arizona to Virginia to undertake an experiment. The family joined the locavore movement, which promotes eating only what is locally raised, grown, and produced. Part memoir, part how-to, and part agricultural education, this book is both timely and entertaining, especially for residents of the Southern Appalachian region.

The Apprentice by Jacques Pépin
The popular television cooking show host traces his rise from an intimidated thirteen-year-old apprentice to a famous chef, recounting his work under prestigious teachers, his journey to America, and his experiences with contemporaries. This is a fast-moving, warm, richly written memoir. Pépin’s life is a joy to read about, and not just for his fans.

Born Round by Frank Bruni
New York Times restaurant critic Bruni traces the unlikely path to his profession and offers an honest exploration of his lifelong struggle with food. Although this memoir is often funny, it is also a powerful, book about desire, shame, and self-image. Bruni's painfully honest, tartly humorous life story will also be a hit with anyone who has struggled with the numbers on the scale.

The Cloak and Dagger Cook by Kay Shaw Nelson
In a 1950s spy’s world of secrecy, food makes appealing and harmless conversational fodder. Combining personal memories, travel narrative, and food writing, Nelson shares her life traveling the globe as a CIA operative, gathering recipes, and amassing confidential intelligence in Greece, Italy, Korea, Lebanon, France, Libya, Germany, and beyond.

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Author of the internationally famous blog Orangette, Molly Wizenberg recounts a life with the kitchen at its center. From her mother's pound cake, a staple of summer picnics during her childhood in Oklahoma, to the eggs she cooked for her father during the weeks before his death, food and memories are intimately entwined.

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci
This delectable memoir follows New Yorker Melucci through failed relationships from college to midlife, detailing the recipes she used to reel the men in, sustain the romances, then comfort herself when they fizzled out. Anyone who has wondered, "Will I ever find Mr. Right?" will appreciate this sprightly work.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
Powell recounts how she escaped the doldrums of an unpromising career by cooking every recipe in Julia Child's 1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a year-long endeavor that transformed her life. Her writing is feisty and unrestrained, especially as she details killing lobsters, tackling marrowbones, and cooking late into the night in an effort to eat well and enjoy life.

My Life in France by Julia Child
Here is the captivating story of Julia Child's years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found "her true calling." Filled with her husband's beautiful black-and-white photographs as well as family snapshots, this memoir is laced with wonderful stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced wholeheartedly. Bon appétit!

Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch
Damrosch, former waiter at the four-star New York City restaurant Per Se, details her career as a waiter, describing the intimate workings of restaurant table service at its best. Tales of critics and celebrities spice up the memoir with a few tips on how to earn a waiter's respect sprinkled throughout. Her romance with the sommelier completes this youthful, exuberant memoir.

The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof
While sailing the Caribbean, the author tracks goats in the hills of the Dominican Republic, gathers nutmegs in Grenada, makes searing-hot pepper sauce in Trinidad, crams for a chocolate-tasting test at the University of the West Indies, and sips moonshine straight out of hidden back-country stills. Add great people, island traditions, and breezy, evocative prose, and this is a must-read.

Stuffed by Patricia Volk
Volk explores the lives of her Austrian-Jewish-American family, including profiles of her father, a restaurateur and inventor, and her grandmother, who won the 1916 trophy for "Best Legs in Atlantic City." The larger-than-life members of Volk’s New York restaurant family leap off the pages of her stylishly written memoir. In a restaurant family, "you're never full, you're stuffed,"

Whatchagot Stew by Patrick McManus
In a fond, frequently hilarious recollection of his Depression-era childhood in Idaho, humorist McManus introduces a cast of characters whose recipes are found in the volume's second half. His memoir includes dozens of down-home recipes from his mother and grandmother, outdoorsmen pals, other friends, and his coauthor sister.

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