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You Are What You Read

I've just finished both of Jeffrey Steingarten's books...

I've done MFK Fisher...

And Mr. Bourdain...

So Chowhounds... what do you read about food when you're not eating?

What good food books should every good CH'er devour?

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  1. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and if you've read that, his follow-up In Defense of Food. Seriously, Jennalyn, Omnivore will change the way you look at food.

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    1. The Pudding That Took A Thousand Cooks by Michael Symons

      1. I am almost finished with "The United States of Arugula." Really enjoying it.

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        1. re: morla

          Just finished this book myself, highly recommended.

        2. I've really enjoyed Ruth Reichl's series of memoirs.

          3 Replies
          1. re: cmkdvs

            another vote for ruthie's memoirs.

            heat - bill buford
            devil in the kitchen - marco pierre white
            gospel of food - barry glasser
            making of a chef - michael ruhlman
            omnivore's dilemma - michael pollan
            food politics - marion nestle
            food fight - kelly brownell

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              I just started Food Politics this week. So far, it confirms a lot of what I already thought.

              1. re: coney with everything

                yeah, i guess part of why i like it is the validation ;)

          2. Laurie Colwin's books are excellent.

            Ruhlman's "Soul of a Chef" is also great, especially the chapter about Thomas Keller.

            "Julie & Julia," by Julie Powell.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jnstarla

              i enjoyed julie & julia as well...have you seen that it's being made into a film along with julia's 'my life in france' ? cool article.


              as for me i recommend all of these. i actually didn't hate the parts of 'sevice included' about the inner workings of per se, but that's sort of a different genre.

            2. I recently got "The Food Snob's Dictionary" which is funny, but a very fast read for the buck... not sure it's worth it.

              I am currently reading "Secret Ingredients", the New Yorker collection of food & drink stories. So far, it's been excellent.... I highly recommend it.

              4 Replies
              1. re: linguafood

                Ooh yes. I want to get that New Yorker book!

                1. re: linguafood

                  I'm almost finished with "Secret Ingredients" and it's simply delightful. Although I've read quite a bit of A. J. Liebling--one of the very best--the book has two essays that were new to me. Great fun.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    I've been reading this at night before I go to sleep - a lot of the essays are new to me due to my angst-filled relationship with my New Yorker subscription - I start it up again, read it avidly for several weeks, then just start flipping through for the cartoons, then the issues start piling up to the point where I don't renew my subscription again, and then the cycle starts anew! So far, I've enjoyed Jane Kramer's piece about her cooking and writing, the Roger Angell article about Martinis, Trillin on wine tasting, Noah Baumbach's "The Zagat History of My Last Relationship" and of course, the cartoons!

                    Oh - and John Kenney's piece on Masa - "Your Table is Ready".

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      ruth, i think you just described EVERYONE'S relationship with their new yorker subscription ;)

                2. The Cookie Sutra. Perfect for the one you love on Valentine's Day. :-)


                  1. buford's, "heat" is a terrific look at line cooking, mario batali, italian cooking in general and a talented writer's conceit in thinking he could stalk the big guys. a very good read.

                    ruhlman wrote about being a cia student. it's all about basic skills. "the making of a chef" is what all aspiring chefs should read before applying to cooking school.

                    tower wrote the quintessential book on the california food explosion. he ruffles feathers in the process and doesn't spare himself. "california dish: what i saw (and cooked) at the american culinary revolution" is poetry.

                    lastly, the late r w apple's, "apple's europe, an uncommon guide" is a decent way for a traveller to pass some time.

                    hope this helps.

                    1. I'm reading Bernard Pivot "Dictionnaire amoureux du Vin" (roughly translated to : "Wine Lover's dictionnary" ) (ISBN-13: 978-2259197335)


                      a wine "dictionnary" which is not a dictionnary, but his version of it; it lists some basic articles on (mostly) french wines and region, it also lists and comments on a selection of his "Apostrophe" show interviewees at the time when they served wine, and when some of them really got into it.

                      It's really a fun little "snob-ish" book; you feel that even if the author want you to know he still like lower-end wines, he still prefers good wines and, particulary good wines in good occasions.

                      I don't know if it translated into english or if it will ever be.

                      1. I recently enjoyed reading The Ninth Muse, by Judith Jones, who was the editor for Julia Child, Marcella Hazan and many more.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Agreed this is excellent, Ms Jones was on the front lines of the "food revolution" of the past 40-some years.
                          It also put me in the way of yet another cookbook buy (from ABE Books for almost nothing), Nela's Cookbook, by Mrs Arthur Rubenstein - JJ edited and mentioned in the memoir - excellent book with great recipes (mostly Easten European-influenced, good for this weather)...led down the garden path again...

                        2. Chicken Soup With Rice, by Maurice Sendak. Now being enjoyed by a second generation of the W. family

                          1. I read a fiction series, the Hannah Swensen series, written by Joanne Fluke. They are a combination "who done it" type book and baking book. The premise is the main character, Hannah Swensen owns a cookie shop and is an amature sleuth. Someone always gets murdered, usually while eating one of Hannah's delights, and she, along with help from her wacky family, usually solve the murder mystery. However, as she is the owner of a cookie shop there are recipes, usually 8-10, spaced throughout the book. It's a good fictional read, and the recipes are marvelous. You can check out Joanne Fluke's web site at www.murdershebaked.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Missi

                              One of the better "cozy cook crime" series. (There are several others.) I keep trying to persuade my wife to let me try some of the dessert recipes, but she refuses to consider anything that begins with "take two sticks of butter". I think I'll retrench and try some of the Minnesota "hotdishes" she describes.

                            2. Books I've enjoyed:

                              Buford's "Heat"
                              Some/all of the Ruth Reichl memoirs
                              Michael Pollan's books
                              "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant"

                              1. I personally really like The Amateur Gourmet book!

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                                1. re: Chew on That

                                  I bought TAG because I liked Adam and wanted to support him, but found it to be just like reading the blog (which really shouldn't be a surprise). I guess I was hoping for a little more depth. Perhaps if he writes another book he will prattle on a little less about his boyfriend and a little more about his growth as a serious foodie. He's young .... he'll learn.

                                  1. re: Cheflambo

                                    He's a fatuous twit. He needs to go away for 10 years or so, until he has a clue.

                                2. "Against the Grain" by Richard Manning.

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                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    Pikawicca - can you tell me more about this (I know I could google - but being lazy)?

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      It's a different look at what agriculture has done to humans and the planet. Thought-provoking and troubling.

                                  2. The Tummy Trilogy, Calvin Trillan

                                    L'Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, Roy Andries de Groot

                                    The Food of France and The Food of Italy, Waverly Root

                                    1. Wow...

                                      What great suggestions.

                                      I have to add that I've read the Ruth Reichel books... loved 'em.
                                      I read Alone in the Kitchen with and Eggplant... and honestly for me it was a B.
                                      The US of Arugula was great.

                                      I have waiting for me on my shelves Julia Child My Life in France and Heat.

                                      For the others you've all suggested I'll be headed over to half.com!

                                      Oh and read the Steingarten books... they're really wonderful.

                                      1. I just remembered another book I read a couple years ago that was a fascinating, if sad read: The Perfectionist -- life and death in haute cuisine, about Bernard L'Oiseau, the (admittedly manic-depressive) chef who committed suicide after he lost one of his michelin stars.

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                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          I read it recently, too. It taught me a lot about nouvelle cuisine, which really informs a lot of modern restaurant cooking. Although it's the first book in ages where there was a word I hadn't heard of on every page! And I don't mean cooking terms. I started writing them down, and ended up with two full pages of 'vocabulary' words I'd never seen before. That said, I still enjoyed it.

                                        2. I'm half way through Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and their Food, by John Dickie. Like any good food book it makes me hungry while I learn. An engrossing history of how Italians came to eat what they do. (And sorts out a bunch of myths: Italian food we know today is city food not country; the French did not learn to cook from the Italians when a Medici was married to Henry II; Marco Polo has nothing to do with pasta but a lot to do with spices.)

                                          1. I'm currently reading "Gumbo Tales" by Sara Roahen." Can't recommend it highly enough!

                                            1. Presently I'm reading Elizabeth David's "French Country Cooking." It's so interesting and with her delightful intros to each chapter it's an enlightening read as well as having some of the easiest recipes in the world. She takes a complicated recipe and reduces it to the simplest basic terms. But I think the real significance of the book is that it introduced Mediterranean cookery to the British..

                                              1. Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine
                                                Margaret Visser, Much Depends on Dinner; The Rituals of Dinner
                                                Gina Mallet, Last Chance to Eat
                                                Fergus Henderson, Nose to Tail Eating

                                                It's already been mentioned, but both I and a friend of mine (he, a chef) wept when reading The Soul of a Chef. Thomas Keller and the rabbits... should humble respect for the animal.

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                                                1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                  So call me a throw back ... a few of the best I've read, all by M.K.F. Fisher: "The Gastronomical Me", "How to Cook a Wolf", "Serve It Forth - The Art of Eating."

                                                  Something a little more current, by Amanda Hesser, and I recognize that people either love her or her hate her writing, but "The Cook and the Chef."

                                                2. i just joined a book club and we picked out a pretty good list:

                                                  Satanic Verses
                                                  Things They Carried
                                                  100 Years of Solitude
                                                  Tokyo Canceled

                                                  I'm very excited about getting started on these!

                                                  1. My Life in France-- Julia Child. I know it's already been suggested, but it's that good.
                                                    Insatiable- Gael Green-- interesting details about the rise of the foodie revolution. Well written, if a bit name-droppy. A pretty spicy read.

                                                    i'm reading Last Chance to Eat right now, and I'm finding it a bit difficult to get through. Next up is Omnivore's Dilemma and then Slow Food Nation

                                                    1. I highly second Calvin Trillen's Tummy Trilogy, and also love Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. The Best Food writing of 200...series is good to get idea for other stuff to read. And you can read each essay fairly quickly, so it's less of a committment.

                                                      1. "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell. (I read this after Anthony Bourdain recommended it in it his book "Nasty Bits," which is a worthwhile read itself.)

                                                        "Down and Out..." is one of the most fascinating and impeccably well-crafted books I've ever read. Up there with Hemingway, Gene Wolfe, Ray Bradbury, Dickens.

                                                        Orwell's writing is powerful and sure-footed, never ponderous or intimidating. He puts you *into* the street life in Paris after WW I. He puts you there, right in the middle of it all. You're in the horrible, hot, filthy, vermin-infested sub-kitchens of "Hotel X" where he slaved (literally) to survive. When he's starving, you're famished. When he finds enough money to buy bread and wine, you're elated. When he takes you on vagrant's walking tour of England, you're there on the graveled paths through the misty greensward, stumping along on aching legs and painful feet.

                                                        If you love words and food, read this book.

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                                                        1. re: KenWritez

                                                          And, when you're finished "Down and Out..", read Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier". I promise you, you'll never eat tripe again.

                                                        2. Anything & everything by Michael Pollan and Michael Ruhlman

                                                          Anything by Marion Nestle, particularly Food Politics

                                                          Harold McGee, of course

                                                          and Julie Powells Julie & Julia is a very fun little read as well.

                                                          1. "How to pick a peach", by Russ Parsons.

                                                            Great info on how to identify the best produce. A good read, and a great reference. Lot's of back story on how varieties were bred, how they have changed over time, etc. Engaging, and you'll go back to it again every time the seasons change.

                                                            1. I am currently reading The Fourth Star by Leslie Brenner, it's about Daniel NYC and is very insightful as to how these types of places function. One of my favs is a unique book called Hugs and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles. It is a collection of letters between James Beard and Helen Evans Brown and it transports you to another time in the American Food Revolution also a great diary of James Beard in a sense.

                                                              1. Cod - Mark Kurlansky

                                                                Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser

                                                                Bread & Oil (Pa amb Oli) - Tomas Graves

                                                                1. Already been mentioned, but my favorite food-related reads of the last few years are the Michael Ruhlman series, "Making of..." "Soul of..." and "Reach of a Chef."

                                                                  Also really enjoyed Calvin Trillin's "Tummy Trilogy." For some reason, I greatly preferred it to his more recent "Feeding a Yen."

                                                                  Based on a recommendation by a CH reply to one of my posts, I recently picked up "Setting the Table" by restaurateur Danny Meyer. Flew through the first half, which I found informative and inspiring, but it did get a bit repetitive later on.

                                                                  Best writing in a cookbook was by Judy Rodgers in "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook," for both her autobiographical introduction and food philosophy as well as her thoughtful and informative explanations when outlining her recipes.

                                                                  I've read "Omnivore's" and "Arugula" and found them to be essential in understanding the food industry, but they were far from fun or easy reads.

                                                                  I am looking forward to the upcoming book by the blogger who writes "Waiter Rant," but I hope it isn't just a collection of his past essays.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: nosh

                                                                    I too preferred Feeding a Yen. All of Mark Kurlansky (I taught Cod in a high school English class.). And John Thorne, especially Serious Pig because so much took Place where I live. Like Water for Chocolate too.

                                                                  2. Several people have mentioned Calvin Trillin. I just wanted to add that Trillin is a chowhound if ever there was one.

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                                                                    1. re: jlafler

                                                                      I love his argument that if you don't eat seconds and then thirds, you are insulting your host or chef!

                                                                      1. re: jlafler

                                                                        I'm pretty sure the first mention of Chowhound I came across was in something he wrote. Thanks Calvin!

                                                                      2. i'm reading a collection of james villas' right now, "stalking the green fairy." it's excellent, and includes recipes at the end of each essay. he is a marvelously astute and obsessive food writer-- kind of the james beard of american southern cooking imo. great sense of humor too. i strongly feel that villas needs to me more widely read! here's more about his books:


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                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                          Thank you so much for the reminder. Why I forget James Villas I don't know but, you're right, he deserves much wider recognition. This widely-traveled, well-read and well-educated man is witty and a great read. Thanks soupkitten.

                                                                        2. I will make a list later of some other books I enjoy that have yet to me mentioned, but for right now I am surprised no one has mentioned the Best of Food Writing series that goes back 6-8 years. Great collections of pieces by many of the writers cited, plus plenty from relative unknowns, usually loosely themed based on what's happening foodwise that year. The material is compiled from thousands of entries from books, magazines (many Saveur writers), blogs and so on. Almost every piece is worth reading.The earlier editions are easy to find, and quite cheap, on the net. Please check them out. More later...

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                                                                          1. re: blackdog

                                                                            Bite your tounge!

                                                                            "The Best Food writing of 200...series is good to get idea for other stuff to read. And you can read each essay fairly quickly, so it's less of a committment."

                                                                            1. re: WCchopper

                                                                              Love the three Mark Ruhlman books, the Ruth Reichl books, Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" and also Jacques Pepin's biography, "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen."

                                                                          2. Some of these have been mentioned by other people, but off the top of my head I've got:

                                                                            Anything food related by Jane and Michael Stern
                                                                            Anything food related by Calvin Trillin
                                                                            The "Best of Food Writing" books

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: manraysky

                                                                              I adore the Sterns... they've got my dream career.

                                                                            2. Just for fun, "Dumas on Food", by Alexandre Dumas, author of "The Three Musketeers" and other adventure stories.

                                                                              He fancied himself quite a gourmand, and his book is full of enthusiasm .... and misinformation,

                                                                              1. I don't usually read books about food for pleasure, as it's what I do all day for a living, but the following are exceptions, both excellent, and they haven't been mentioned here yet:

                                                                                Oranges, by John McPhee
                                                                                Between Meals, by A. J. Liebling

                                                                                No need to be already especially interested in oranges or Paris or even food to enjoy these.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: Liana Krissoff

                                                                                  "I don't usually read books about food for pleasure, as it's what I do all day for a living," How do I be like you when I grow up?

                                                                                2. Jonathon Gold's columns in LA Weekly are bookmarked right next to Chowhound. I really enjoy his vibrant writing style and I guess so did the Pulitzer Committee.

                                                                                  1. Was just reminded of one I don't remember seen mentioned on this board - A Meal Observed by Andrew Todhunter - the Taillevent experience from both sides (diner's and behind the scenes). A treat.

                                                                                    1. The Big Oyster - History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky is an excellent and informative read.

                                                                                      1. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence By Amy Sedaris
                                                                                        For some crazy food porn and lots of giggles!


                                                                                        Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story by Dylan Schaffer
                                                                                        Read this on the plane and cried happy tears the whole time!

                                                                                        1. I'm reading two great books right now. The first is "American Food Writing" edited by Molly O'Neill. It's a couple of centuries worth of essays on food, mostly by American food writers but also some immigrants. Many of the writers have already been mentioned in this thread. There are also some important (at least to the history of American food) recipes in it. It's very interesting and very long... more than 700 pages.
                                                                                          The second is "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats" by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. It shows what 30 regular families in 24 different countries eat each week. It shows how they shop and how they eat their meals. It also includes a recipe from each family. Including Greenlandic Seal Stew. It's fascinating reading and the photos are beautiful.

                                                                                          1. The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

                                                                                            1. I've read Kurlansky's food books: Cod, Salt, and the Big Oyster. He also wrote 1968, among others, which is not about food but is very good.

                                                                                              I liked the Perfectionist by Rudolph Chelminsky, the book about Bernard Loiseau. so tragic,

                                                                                              Also like Swann's Way, but not sure if that counts.

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                                                                                              1. re: MaspethMaven

                                                                                                Kurlansky also edited an amazing collection of food writing from earliest history through to the present day, called "Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing From Around the World and Throughout History."

                                                                                                Another super-entertaining read is Steven Rinella's "A Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine." He tries to recreate a bunch of dishes from Escoffier's "Le Guide Culinaire," and to procure the appropriate ingredients becomes quite an adventure. Highly recommended.

                                                                                                There's another foodie book that was the first I ever read and became obsessive about...written by Susan...um...dangit, what was it called? I'll look for it at home and try to post it later.....

                                                                                                1. re: dingey

                                                                                                  Duh! Not SUSAN! Sallie! Sallie Tisdale's "The Best Thing I Ever Tasted." TOTALLY sucked me in. The first book I ever read that got into the history of food in our country (before I'd ever heard of Pollan) and severely swung my already-changing attitude towards pre-packaged convenience, etc.

                                                                                                  From Publishers Weekly
                                                                                                  "In this informal book-length essay, Tisdale (Talk Dirty to Me) examines food and our relationships with it. Tisdale's style is casual, yet never aimless; each chapter is a well-crafted part of the intensely thoughtful whole. Tisdale is specifically interested in Americans and their relationship to food: she discusses how eating habits change as immigrants become assimilated. She explicates clearly that cooking has remained "women's work" over the years and relates compelling stories of her mother's lackadaisical attitude toward cooking and the ways in which her own experiences both repeat and differ from those of her mother ("She was bound by routine; I'm bound by change"). Tisdale also explores whether processed foods help women (by freeing them from the drudgery of cooking from scratch) or hurt them (by eliminating a type of knowledge that previously had been handed down through generations). This book is peppered with recollections (Tisdale recently prepared homemade soup for her aging father, who informed her that he prefers the taste of the fat-free Cup-a-Soup) and facts ("People ate more meat and lard in 1839 than they did in 1939"). But in the end, Tisdale's forte lies in helping readers to see the big picture, in which she ties together history, folklore, personal anecdote and sharp analysis to show that we truly are what we eat. (Feb.) "

                                                                                              2. I started reading Gourmet as a teenager, and I always loved Fred Ferretti's essays. After Ruth took over, and Fred left, I let my subscription lapse. I wish the people at Conde Nast would consider publishing a collection of his work. He had a way of making you feel that were comfortably with him as he traveled around the world, sampling cuisine and culture as he went.

                                                                                                1. Food books that I've enjoyed this past year:

                                                                                                  'The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry' by Kathleen Flinn about leaving the corporate world to go to culinary school - great recipes

                                                                                                  'The Fortune Cookie Chronicles' by Jennifer 8 Lee - very entertaining!

                                                                                                  'An Omelette and a Glass of Wine' by the divine Elizabeth David

                                                                                                  'Elements of Cooking' by Michael Ruhlman, practical and interesting

                                                                                                  'What to Eat' by Marion Nestle

                                                                                                  'The United States of Arugula' by David Camp

                                                                                                  'Cod' by Mark Kurlansy

                                                                                                  'The Story of Corn' by Betty Fussell

                                                                                                  'Alone in a Kitchen with an Eggplant' - wonderful essay collection

                                                                                                  Am also presently reading 'Gumbo Tales' by Sarah Roahan, which is making me want to book a ticket to New Orleans and eat for an entire weekend...