Food books that aren’t cookbooks
I’ve always loved reading about food, drink, travel, and restaurants. But especially in these challenging times, escaping into food writing seems particularly comforting.
Lately—perhaps longing to be transported to a different era—I’ve been reading some classics of food writing such as Waverly Root’s The Food of France and Between Meals by A.J. Liebling, along with neo-classics by contemporary authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Anthony Bourdain, Questlove and Eric Ripert.
Here are my choices for the best 7 books for food lovers:
32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line
My favorite American restaurant is Le Bernardin in New York City. The food and service there is flawless, thanks in large part to co-owner/chef Eric Ripert. A French Buddhist in the kitchen? Why not? To learn how Ripert went from learning cooking at his mother’s side to becoming a high-profile Buddhist TV chef and owner of a world-class restaurant, I recommend reading 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line. Bonus assignment: If you like 32 Yolks and want more Ripert, the single best book I’ve ever read about running a top-notch restaurant is his On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin.
Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs
As co-founder of The Roots, Questlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) filled our ears with challenging, funky, fabulous music. As the author of Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs, he delves into the innovative and creative side of professional cooking with the likes of French celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre, Modernist Cuisine Lab’s Nathan Myhrvold, and a slew of others. There’s a lot to chew on (pun intended) in this lavishly photographed tomb.
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris
A.J. Liebling was a journalist who wrote about a broad spectrum of topics for the New Yorker and other publications during a life that spanned both World Wars. Every few years, I treat myself to a rereading of his delicious collection of essays about Paris, its restaurants, chefs, French wine, and such called Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris. It’s a portrayal of Paris’ grand epoque, when a full-blown, gourmand-worthy meal could be had for a buck thirty-five and dishes like escargots en pot de chambre and truite au bleu graced even the simplest of tables in Parisian restaurants.
Liebling’s deliciously witty writing is timeless, as are passages like this one: “If you run across a restaurant where you often see priests eating with priests, or sporting girls with sporting girls, you may be confident that it is good. Those are two classes of people who like to eat well and get their money’s worth.” Liebling’s Paris may have all but disappeared, but Between Meals vividly brings it back to life.
The Food of France
A contemporary of A.J. Liebling, Waverly Root was a culinary adventurer decades before Anthony Boudain and others arrived on the food scene. The New York Times’ Craig Claiborne called Waverly Root’s The Food of France “The most lucid and definitive book ever written in English on a cuisine that has flourished for centuries.” Originally published in 1958, The Food of France has never gone out of print, a testament to its timelessness. It’s a tasty celebration of French culture and cuisine—from the luscious bouillabaisse of Marseilles to the truffle-stuffed sausages that Rabelais so loved. But it’s not only about food; the book is also brimming with regional histories and customs. It’s a must for even the slightest of Francophiles. I even forgive him for denouncing Alsatian cuisine as “an offshoot of German cooking.”
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Years ago, the great American author Jim Harrison mentioned to me that one of his favorite food books was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Who knew? Of course, I quickly scored a copy, and Kingsolver’s book rapidly became one of my favorites, as well. It’s her account of living very close to the land in the Arizona desert for one year, where her and her family grow, store, raise, farm, and prepare almost everything they eat for that year. Ultimately, it’s a humorous, informative, and entertaining account of how it really is possible for any of us to live lower on the food chain.
The Tummy Trilogy
There are few food writers—no, make that writers, period—that I enjoy more than Calvin Trillin. He’s a true American treasure. And so is his collection called The Tummy Trilogy. It’s a compendium of three of Trillin’s food books: American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings. Trillin is the funniest food writer I know and an impassioned defender of regional American cuisines. This is the guy who wrote, “Fairs are good places to eat, particularly for stand-up eaters—which is one of the kinds of eaters I am—although when I eat standing up away from home I sometimes miss the familiar cool breeze coming from the open refrigerator.” If that’s not terrific summer reading, I don’t know what is.
Bone in the Throat: A Novel of Death and Digestion
I really miss Anthony Bourdain. Who wouldn’t miss a guy who, as he once told me, would like to be Bootsie Collins if he could be someone else. You’re probably familiar with his best-selling food books like Kitchen Confidential; Medium Raw; The Nasty Bits, A Cook’s Tour, and others. But you might not know that before any of those books were written, Bourdain was a published novelist.
He used to run a French bistro around the corner from my NYC apartment, which is where I learned that he was working not just in the Les Halles kitchen at the time, but also dabbling in mystery writing. I recommend his first novel for entertaining summer reading: Bone in the Throat: A Novel of Death and Digestion.
Publisher’s Weekly cleverly described Bone in the Throat as “a savory portion of gangster tartare spiced with salty mobspeak, coked-up chefs, wild entrepreneurs and foul-mouthed feds, served up in the colorful ambience of Manhattan’s Little Italy,” and that’s a better description of Bourdain’s first stab at fiction than I can come up with. If you enjoy Bone in the Throat, also check out Bourdain’s follow-up novel, Gone Bamboo, which I think is even better.
Have a tasty food read you’d like to share with us? Let us know your favorites.
Culinary quote of the week:
The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. — A.J. Liebling
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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