Food writers and their books

This week, Ruth Reichl‘s Delicious! arrived in the mail – her first novel, though far from her first book.  I’ve been getting press releases for at least six months, so it wasn’t a surprise.  But with the Beard book awards taking place this week – I’m going, for the first time – I’ve been thinking about food writers and the kinds of books we choose to write.  

When I say “food writers,”  I mean those of us who work primarily in food-related media but aren’t primarily cookbook authors – the print journalists, magazine columnists, and especially these days, bloggers who do their best to make a living writing about food.

Since the heyday of the food magazines, many former editors and contributors have indeed gone on to write cookbooks (like Saveur‘s Caroline Campion and Kathy Brennan, or Fine Cooking‘s Susie Middleton and Martha Holmberg).  They tend to be terrific, too, honed by years of crafting recipes that are both interesting and approachable for home cooks.

Then there are those who move on to memoir, like Saveur‘s Colman Andrews (My  Usual Table, most recently), or the Times‘ Kim Severson (Spoon Fed), or Vogue‘s Jeffrey Steingarten (The Man Who Ate Everything).  Or myself!for that matter.

It seems to be rare for food writers to move on to fiction (setting aside Ruth Reichl, who has tried all of the above, or Lidia Bastianich, whose children’s books tie in to her many food enterprises).  For the most part, we food writers seem to stick to what we know – there’s not much fiction involved (hopefully) in chopping an onion.

So I’m curious to know – once you’ve come to know and love a food writer from the web, print, or other media, what kind of books would you enjoy reading from them?  Another way of thinking about it: What is it that makes you want to buy a food book that isn’t a cookbook?

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  • Lindsay  on  April 29, 2014

    The simple answer is the quality of writing – if the memoir and/or the cookbook is well written and you like the author's style and viewpoint it's worth taking a chance on another genre. And I just read Rechl's Delicious! and it's great – strongly recommend.

  • Radish  on  April 29, 2014

    Years ago one summer, my family was all sick with pneumonia and we were quarantined to the house. I sustained myself with MFK Fisher.

  • Christine  on  April 29, 2014

    I particularly enjoy food-related memoirs — by food writers or by chefs — I haven't read as many as I would like though. I am currently reading Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, & Butter and can't decide which one to read next! As an avid fiction-reader and a cookbook-lover though, I am very curious about Ruth Reichl's first novel.

  • aprmil  on  April 29, 2014

    I loved Peter King's Gourmet Detective series. I may go back and read those again, now that I think about it!

  • Jane  on  April 29, 2014

    I agree with Lindsay on the quality of the writing will be important. I will read Ruth Reichl's book as her 3 memoirs were terrific. Examples of great food writing for me are M.F.K. Fisher and Laurie Colwin – I'm currently re-reading Home Cooking. The other criteria for me is whether the author has had an interesting life – Grant Achatz's On the Line and Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood Bones & Butter both fall into that camp (as well as being well written). I haven't read any of the culinary fiction books as I don't think the writing would be very good – please give me examples if you think I am wrong.

  • boardingace  on  April 29, 2014

    I love memoirs including this type; I guess I haven't read enough to figure out which ones I'll like best – I just start with any that I've heard of 🙂

  • Mesdaile  on  April 29, 2014

    I also agree with Lindsay and some of the other readers. The style of writing and what they have to say lures me to their food writings. I have read most of the books mentioned and have loved MK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, Elizabeth David, Gabrielle Hamilton, David Lebovitz, Nigel Slater, Cherry Ripe (an Australian writer), Stephanie Alexander, Marcella Hazan and many more.
    I love this quote
    “No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers."
    Laurie Colwin
    Very true!

  • ellabee  on  April 30, 2014

    Memoirs have the most appeal to me from food writers, particularly if there's insight into the foodways and culture of a place I'm not familiar with. Or, as in the case of Ruth Reich's first book, brilliant writing about even a very familiar environment.

  • hillsboroks  on  April 30, 2014

    Besides the writers everyone else has mentioned I have found I really enjoy the non-fiction books by Mark Kurlansky. His books include "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World", "Salt: A World History", and "The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell." I just ordered another book of his called "Choice Cuts – A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History." Once you read "Salt" you will never look at a salt shaker the same again and will also want to move on and find out more about "Cod."

  • ellabee  on  April 30, 2014

    Enthusiastically second the recommendation of any of the Kurlansky books, but particularly Salt. It really is a history of the world…

  • rlmiller  on  April 30, 2014

    I share many of the sentiments noted above. I only wish the EYB site had a "like" feature that would allow me to share how many of the posts I fully support and agree with!

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