It was food writer Molly O’Neil who said that food preferences, habits and rituals are also intimate windows into disparate cultures, classes, eras and places. We see this clearly between the pages of our favorite food memoirs, the latest, hottest coming-of-age stories.
This year I’ve traveled to Berlin with Luisa Weiss in My Berlin Kitchen, I donned chef whites and piped buttercream alongside Jenna Weber in White Jacket Required, and I ducked behind the scenes of Top Chef with Gail Simmons in Talking with My Mouth Full – and all from under a quilt on my sofa.
I’m sharing a few of my favorites today; they’re certain to make a perfect Christmas gift for the foodie in the family.
1. Talking with My Mouth Full by Gail Simmons (Hyperion, 2012)
I adored Gail’s frank and friendly account of her food-centric upbringing, her journey as a food writer, and her rise to TV fame. I’ve watched enough Top Chef to have Gail’s voice in my head as I was reading – and she writes exactly as she talks (not everyone does). I couldn’t wait to steal away each day and hang out with Gail!
The fact that Gail is a Canadian girl and part of the book takes place in my Montreal is just icing on the cake. Buy the book; her amusing account of working as an assistant to Jeffery Steingarten is worth the price tag alone.
Find Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater on Amazon.
2. My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss (Viking, 2012)
With the subtitle “A love story, with recipes”, it’s hard not to love Luisa Weiss’s charming memoir. She writes beautifully and sweeps us up into her culinary tale of finding love and her true home.
The recipes included have a decidedly international flair, thanks to Italian, American and German influences, but most feature accessible ingredients and simple enough techniques to prepare.
Find My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) on Amazon.
3. White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story by Jenna Weber (Sterling Epicure, 2012)
Ever since Bourdain’s tales from the trenches of LCB, the culinary-school play-by-play is a story that captures imaginations. In White Jacket Required, we are fortunate to return to the world of white coats and tall hats in an entertaining read that leaves us hungry for fruit tarts and flourless chocolate cake.
Jenna’s book is easy to read, difficult to put down, and at the end, leaves readers content with the fact that the author is exactly where she is supposed to be.
Find White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story on Amazon.
4. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House, 2011)
Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, & Butter is an expertly written autobiography about a chef searching for purpose in her life and finding it through cooking. From one artfully recounted story to the next, we follow author Hamilton from kitchen to kitchen, breathlessly anticipating her next adventure, her next mouthful.
As Hamilton so passionately depicts, there are few life stories as exciting and colorful than that of a chef; in the evenings, I found myself getting Danny’s attention and forcing him to listen while I read excerpts out loud. Both delicious and engrossing, Blood, Bones & Butter is a must-read for any foodie worth their salt.
5. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (Scribner, 2012)
If the recipe headnote is your favorite part of a cookbook, you’ll fall hard for the narrative cookbook, An Everlasting Meal. Written by Tamar Adler in a series of essays, the the rustic, soft spoken instructions of this book read almost like prose – incredibly practical prose.
Tamar weaves in instructions on how to salvage burned or over-salted dishes, reminds us not to overlook the humblest of ingredients, and generously gives us strategies for economical cooking.
You can read some short excerpts of the book on Tamar’s website or find An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace on Amazon.
Did you read a great food memoir or non-fiction book this past year? Please share your titles in the comments.