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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Feast of Books

One of my favorite traditions this time of year is reading the annual Food Issue of the New Yorker. It is perfectly timed to arrive close to Thanksgiving, when food and feasting take center stage in our minds and bellies. If your tastes run to the literary as well, many branches of Fairfax County Public Library subscribe to the magazine. This year’s Food Issue was November 3.

If you prefer longer form journalism, then you’re in luck. In addition to thousands of cookbooks, the library owns a substantial collection of food writing. You’ll find classics by MFK Fisher as well as a multitude of culinary memoirs of chefs, restaurant critics and home cooks – an area of publishing that took off after Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain showed the wide-appeal these books could have.

I’ve put two of the library’s newest books in this genre on my to read list this fall: Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg and Sous Chef: 24 hours on the Line by Michael Gibney. I was excited to see these two, because a few years ago I blazed through this genre and felt like I checked out everything the library owned on the topic. A few standouts from that reading adventure:

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelson – Samuelson was orphaned as a child in Ethiopia, raised by adoptive parents in their native Sweden and educated in central Europe before settling in New York City. The New York Times called the memoir “beautiful.” A great read that spans the poorest of rural Ethiopia with the most sophisticated of Western cooking in the world’s richest cities.

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton – a true literary work. I read it at the same time I was reading a novel, and I kept putting that book down to return to this one. Anthony Bourdain, no slacker when it comes to literary writing, called Hamilton’s book “the best memoir by a chef, ever.”

Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz – James Beard award-winner Achatz experienced the cruelest twist fate for a chef when he was stricken with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma tongue cancer. The aggressive treatment, which saved his life, left him without a sense of taste. He relays the journey to save his career and his restaurant in this book.

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford – Buford, a former New Yorker staffer, left his publishing job and convinced Mario Batali to let him work in the kitchen at Babbo, despite having no professional kitchen experience.
Now, I need to channel the same enthusiasm I had when I raced through these books. There’s a Thanksgiving dinner that needs my attention.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

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