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Which Biographies and or profiles?

Candy Aug 1, 2006 12:43 AM

I read the first Reichel book and was sort of entertained, the second tell all of affairs etc. I found disusting. A friend just reported that the new Gael Green auto-biography embarassed her, saying as should have the writer or anyone reading it. Wife of a Chef I found a bit whiny but in many ways amusing. I have just picked up Mimi Sheraton's new book, Eating My Words which I will start tonight. I have enjoyed Rhulman's books and Bourdains. Any favorites out there and why? Any you found pathertic and embarassing? Really I am not a prude, not with my appetite and sensual love of food, wine and cooking. But why oh why do some of these people need to embarass themselves in tell all print? Of one of the writers it was reported that the writer was totally indiscriminate in partners. If the opposite sex was capable the writer would have it. Is there a food collorary I am missing?

  1. Notorious EMDB Aug 1, 2006 01:05 AM

    I loved Jacques Pepin's memoir because it was everything Ruth Reichl's wasn't-- reserved, straightforward, and modest. I found her two books unbearable, and her portrayal of her mentally ill mother unkind in the extreme. She was far too convinced of her own brilliance and her own victimhood. For this same reason, MFK Fisher occasionally rubbed me the wrong way, too-- although her prose is so much better than Reichl's that I can forgive her-- especially when she wrote about her dying companion in her later years. She had compassion for the people around her when she wasn't being self absorbed. (that said, I do like Gourmet better under Reichl, so I'm not a total hater.)

    Sheraton's book was too something, but not self conscious or congratulatory. I just couldn't get through it. I agree with you about Wife of a Chef.

    Bourdain's books, however, I like for their brashness. But again, he is humble and unafraid to make himself the butt of the joke.

    Not a memoir, but Elizabeth David's cookbooks are full of wonderful anectdotes that have me hooting with laughter.

    While lots of people bash Amanda Hesser, I actually find her writing to be self-deprecating and her recipes always work. I re-read Cooking for Mr. Latte recently, and appreciated some of the more twee columns in light of later columns where she recognizes her failings... to be willing to show how you've grown up like that is really brave.

    Susan Hermann Loomis' On Rue Tatin is a great cooking, france, family memoir that charts her start of her career and her life in france. Her stories about the farmers in her Farmhouse Cookbooks are also charming and earnest.

    I used to love Sarah Chase's stories in her cookbooks, but lately I've found her to be a bit too precious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Notorious EMDB
      Candy Aug 1, 2006 01:15 AM

      I agree with you about Hesser, On Rue Tatin, and The MFK Fischer books. The Reichel which was not a "tell all" sexploitation was enjoyable. What I really found disappointing was "Stand Facing the Stove" which was the biography of the Rombuers. I expected it to be much more entertaining than like someone's dry Phd dissertation. I did truly enjoy the Elizabeth David biography and the few about Julia Child too. Your reason's for liking Bourdain are mine too and I cannot remember the name of the book about how Keller got his start but that was a good read too.

      I should not try to start some of these things too late and too tired.

      If they could quit embarassing themselves and keep it the food. I am just on the opening pages of Sheraton's book. If I doze off i'll report back.

      Garlic and Sapphires is truly the only Reichel book I have liked . The firat as you said was cruel but ther were entertaining moments. The second should have been printed on toilet paper.

    2. n
      noeldottir Aug 1, 2006 05:31 AM

      Try Heat by Bill Buford. I'm halfway through and it's very engaging.

      1 Reply
      1. re: noeldottir
        n
        noeldottir Aug 5, 2006 09:53 PM

        Update: I'm finished and it's a *fantastic* book! Smart, funny, insightful, revealing, beautifully written. It's as far away from Gael Greene's embarrassing tell-all as possible and still be considered remotely in the same genre. It does not make me a huge fan of Mario Batalli but I do have to admire him for allowing himself and his restaurant to be included in a somewhat less-than-flattering light. And in the end, it reminds me why I'm connected to food, why it's so endlessly fascinating, how many ways there are to be involved. Now I'm on to Marion Nestle's What To Eat, kind of on the other end of the spectrum.

      2. MMRuth Aug 1, 2006 06:05 PM

        I just finished reading "Clementine in the Kitchen" - about Clementine - a Burgundian cook to an American family living in a French village before the outbreak of WWII, and their subsequent adventures in French cooking when they move to Marblehead with Clementine. Really enjoyed it - lots of recipes. I have, however, just this moment, read on the internet that the author made Clementine up ... which if true saddens me a bit - but I did love the book.

        6 Replies
        1. re: MMRuth
          AppleSister Aug 1, 2006 07:57 PM

          The new autobiography by Julia Child is sweet and a good read. It's not great literature on a prose level, but her story is so compelling and her wonder and excitement as she discovers French food is completely unabashed and endearing. She reminded me how I felt the first time I tasted a great baguette or croissant, which is a great memory to relive.

          I'm very sad to hear "Clementine" was made up!

          1. re: MMRuth
            JoanN Aug 1, 2006 08:51 PM

            "I have, however, just this moment, read on the internet that the author made Clementine up ..."

            Where did you read that? It's true that the name Clementine was an invention, as was the name Phineas Beck. And she may have been a bit of a composite of a few cooks who worked for the Chamberlains in France. But there was a Burgundian cook who worked for the family in France and came with them to Marblehead. Her real name was Germaine. I used to work with (and was good friends with) Narcisse Chamberlain--aka Diane Beck--and her stories of "Clementine" were very real indeed.

            1. re: JoanN
              MMRuth Aug 1, 2006 09:11 PM

              It was part of someone's review of the book - maybe on Amazon - glad to read your post about Germaine!

            2. re: MMRuth
              Candy Aug 1, 2006 09:28 PM

              I have Clementine, it was originally publihed in 1943. The author was Samuel Chamberlain writing under the name Phineas Beck. We was one of the original writers for Gourmet.

              1. re: Candy
                MMRuth Aug 1, 2006 09:38 PM

                The illustrations are lovely as well ... it would be fun to have one of the original ones - this is a reprint in some series gathered together by Ruth Reichl.

                Have you read anything of Richard Olney's - as I mentioned elsewhere, I just read about him for the first time in Gourmet, and thought that I'd like to read something of his.

                1. re: MMRuth
                  Candy Aug 2, 2006 12:34 AM

                  Mine is the 1963 edition. Published by Gourmet Books. I have Olney's Simple French Cooking but have not ready any essays etc. by him

            3. frankiii Aug 1, 2006 08:57 PM

              I really enjoyed Garlic and Saphires. MFK Fisher's The Gastronomical Me is a great read as well. Of course, Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast is great. In terms of fiction I really enjoyed The Debt to Pleasure. I have never picked up one of the "Best of American..." series on food writing but i imagine that would be fun. I am sure there are great articles in my monthly Food and Wine, but i only look at the pictures.

              I bought The Perfectionist a few weeks back but have not started to read it. I did enjoy the New Yorker article about the same subject and from the same writer. I could happily read an entire book of New Yorker's "Table for Two"

              1. j
                jordana Aug 6, 2006 05:12 AM

                The Perfectionist was an amazing book!!! It is so detailed and historical. it goes into depth about how Michelin came in existence as well as how the french dining scene. It was also really interesting to see how Bernard Louiseau got interested in food and what it meant to him.

                1. toodie jane Aug 7, 2006 03:54 PM

                  not an autobigraphy, but Roy Andre De Groot's 'Auberge of the Flowering Hearth' is a delightful account of the writer's discovery of a small inn located in a mountain village in France, post-WWII.

                  Very good prose and I still remember his account of the local cow's butter tasting like the scent of mountain wildflowers.

                  One of the original accounts of cooking and eating seasonally. Maybe Alice Waters read this book early on? :)

                  1. JoanN Aug 7, 2006 05:15 PM

                    Neither biography nor profile, although very definitely autobiographical, Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A. J. Liebling should not be missed by anyone interested in fine (and laugh-out-loud funny) writing about food. Liebling studied at the Sorbonne in the late 20s and returned to Europe as a war correspondent, participating in the Normandy landings on D Day. Much of his writing is about the war and quite a bit of it is on the art and sport of boxing. But Liebling was a prodigious and unapologetic gourmand and anyone who enjoys reading about food will be thoroughly entertained.

                    1. m
                      melly Aug 7, 2006 06:16 PM

                      I loved "Stuffed" by Patricia Volk...Adventures of a Restaurant Family. They had Morgen's in NYC. Her great-grandfather introduced pastrami to America. Great stories, great food, lots of fun to read. I'd read a chapter or two and then have to go cook something!

                      1. s
                        sgardner Nov 11, 2008 09:09 PM

                        I see that I am two years too late on this one, but I would have to weigh in and suggest the "Alice B. Toklas Cookbook." I read it a few months ago and was moved by its depth and its story. The parts covering the Second World War in France are chilling in a way that other writing about civilians in war time is not. Even with the descriptions of the War, the book is delightful from start to finish. Toklas is a person I would have liked to have known--good sense of humor, an impeccable sense of propriety but not at all scolding, intelligent, loyal, and loves, loves, loves good food and loves to cook. She did not abide bad food, and I love that.

                        I have not enjoyed MFK Fisher's books. I love her writing but she is so mean-spirited that I cannot read her work. The Gael Greene book is definitely terrible, and I did not enjoy the Reichl books. Mimi Sheraton's autobiography was very meager in terms what we learn about her--there was no richness to her story--but it was enjoyable enough. I have liked Amanda Hesser's books, though her writing is not outstanding. I liked Linda Ellerbee's "Take Big Bites." She presents herself in a likable way and her story is multifaceted. "Pass the Polenta" by Teresa Lust and Patricia Volk's "Stuffed" were middle-of-the-road selections--not great literature but fine to read. Jacques Pepin's autobiography is delightful, and "My Life in France" by Julia Child and Paul Prud'homme is insightful and a new take on the Grand Dame of Americanized French cooking. "Service Included" by Phoebe Damrosch is interesting for the parts about service at Per Se, but the parts about her personal life were not compelling to me in the least. Anthony Bourdain's books are occasionally irritating, and even infuriating at times, but they are overall entertaining and enlightening.

                        The Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford books have autobiographical tidbits in each one, and I adore their books. Their travels are so inspiring. What respectful, inquisitive, industrious people they are. I would definitely love to meet those two. Rose Levy Beranbaum also includes autiobiographical information in her books and I find that sets her books apart from others in a great way.

                        I will read "Stand Facing the Stove" about the creators of the "Joy of Cooking" next. A reader here did not like it, but I read another review that raved about it, so I am curious what I will think about it.

                        1. s
                          sgardner Nov 11, 2008 09:24 PM

                          I just have to add to the list of excellent ones: "Clementine in the Kitchen" by Phineas Beck (aka Samuel Chamberlain), Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence," Laurie Colwin's two books, "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking," and John J. Pullen's super-fun "The Transcendental Boiled Dinner."

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sgardner
                            o
                            onthelam Nov 17, 2008 09:37 AM

                            Just as I was despairing that no one brought up Laurie Colwin in these older post - there she is! Loved her books and still use her Black Cafe recipe every Christmas.
                            More recently, James and Kay Salter's "Life is Meals" is a fun read. And "Toast" by Nigel Slater, a bittersweet memoir of an English childhood.

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