Memoirs from chefs, recipes from home cooks.March 16, 2011 by Susie
I guess there’s no two ways around it: chefs live more interesting lives than the rest of us. On the whole, that’s because their lives are also harder: late hours, low pay, high stress, a demanding public. With success comes the expectation of simultaneously expanding, and reinventing yourself. Not surprisingly, those chefs who survive have enormous character, and those who find the time to write a memoir often find their public devours it as ravenously as it does their food. No one says life has to be hard to be interesting, but so often it just works out that way…
My life is a cakewalk compared to a chef’s, yet even I find I rarely have time to read their books. Still, I’m going to clear the decks so I can read Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter. Hamilton’s Prune was just a fledgling eatery when I lived in NY, and I have always regretted not making a visit. But her book has a captivating prose surface–Hamilton had gotten a fiction MFA before she shifted to food, and it shows.
Perhaps the bio with the biggest buzz right now is Grant Achatz’s, Life, On the Line. The Alinea chef, as the well-known story goes, pushed the frontiers of American molecular gastronomy before being catastrophically diagnosed with tongue cancer. I am sure his ordeal, and his subsequent recovery, will be roundly hailed as a “triumph of the human spirit”. But I will gladly settle for “a good read”.
Anthony Bourdain’s bistro, Les Halles, was one of my favorite places to eat once, but I would have enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s first, shocking foray into the form, Kitchen Confidential, even if it hadn’t been. In the years since, the chef has turned into a global food personality, but he still finds ways to mine his experience for print. Medium Raw was the last one, published last summer–have you read it? What else have you liked?
I think we can all do each other a favor by recommending our favorite food memoirs. In a field as well supplied as food publishing is, we rely on each other to sniff out the truffles–even if, in this as so much else, it all comes down eventually to a matter of taste.
I try to keep an open mind, filled with the hopeful thought that the greatest enjoyment to be had in my life, next to eating food, is reading books. And with any luck, in a few months, someone will enjoy reading mine.
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