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Mar 12, 2008 05:54 AM

Who are the great food writers, past & present?

I heard a partial interview on the CBC radio March 11th with the New York times food editor who had written a book, I believe is called, "Garlic & Saffron"? I didn't catch her name but it got me thinking that I should create a great food writer's list to read.
Who are some of the great food writers, past & present that you could recommend for my list?

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  1. fruglescot, the book is called "Garlic & Sapphires" and the writer is Ruth Reichl.

    If you search this board back a few months, you'll find many, many threads re: good food books and their's one:

    3 Replies
      1. re: LindaWhit

        Claudia Roden. I'm surprised she hasn't been mentioned. I found a copy of her Book of Middle Eastern food from the year of its publication, and she writes splendidly about Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cookery and cultures. Her book on Jewish Cooking is a work of social history from the "kitchen" side.

        1. re: lagatta

          Funnily enough, in the intro to the updated The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, she says she was embarrassed when she re-read her effusive writing. But says that she decided to leave it the original headnotes the way she wrote them. The newly added or updated recipes are written in a different style, she says. I can't tell which is which, but I think it's a lovely book. That and Arabesque are the only books of hers I've read, but they are both terrific.


      2. My short list (in no particular order than that they came to mind):

        Julia Child
        MFK Fisher
        Calvin Trillin
        Jeffrey Steingarten
        Bill Buford
        Ruth Reichl (BTW, author of _Garlic and SAPHIRES_)
        Michael Ruhlman
        Anthony Bourdain
        Harold McGee
        Herve This
        Shirley O. Corriher
        Charlie Papazian (beer is food)
        Michael Jackson (ditto)
        William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

        Just a start.

        7 Replies
        1. re: applehome

          Good list! I would add to that Laurie Colwin.

          1. re: applehome

            Herve This is not a food writer. He is a scientist who writes about his findings.

            James Villas is among my favorite food writers... much more than Steingarten, for instance.

            add to the above list:
            Elizabeth David
            Jane Grigson
            Margaret Visser.

            Julia was not a food writer, she was a cookbook author and teacher. Food writers are not mainly recipe writers, they mainly write ABOUT food, and sometimes they include a recipe or so.... like Laurie Colwin, gone way too soon. I love her work!

            1. re: ChefJune

              Julia was much more than a recipe writer and cooking instructor. My Life In France speaks to her passion for French cooking and desire to share that passion. Even within her many cookbooks, she provides vignettes about incidents or histories that are as good as many food writers that never actually learned to cook.

              You're right about This - to include him, I also need to include Harold McGee, Heston Blumenthal, and Ferran Adria. Adria includes recipes in a CDROM, but his book is mainly about inspiration. Corriher fits this mold, as well, of writing about the technical aspects of food preparation, rather than stories of discovering new foods and new places to eat. But if they're not "mainly writing about food", then what are they writing about?

              I guess that I would give the widest possible interpretation to food writing, while agreeing that we're not talking about actual recipe instruction books (which are way too numerous to get into). This's and McGee's books are not about lists of ingredients and how-to's of assembling a dish, but rather are general reading and reference books about the why's and the hows - certainly books that ought to be recommended to anyone that is interested in learning more about the subject.

              1. re: applehome

                <Julia was much more than a recipe writer and cooking instructor. > I loved Julia, but I can't compare her as a foodwriter with someone like MFK Fischer, or Roy Andries de Groot. She wasn't. She was a GREAT teacher, tho. and I didn't say "recipe writer," I said cookbook author. considerable difference.

              2. re: ChefJune

                I'm reading Elizabeth Davis now. A three in one compilation of Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking. What a wonderful journey into another, older world of cookery. One is able to cook from the rather simplified recipes she describes. James Beard wrote, "Elizabeth David had the rare gift of stimulating the imagination in both the mind and the mouth and making you want to head straight for the kitchen."

              3. re: applehome

                applehome, when did you start reading food writing? i bought my first one two years ago, Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.

                1. re: risottoman

                  I read Fisher while in high school in the 60's - How To Cook a Wolf. My father had a basement full of old books and that was one of them. The title caught my eye - who knew it was about eating in the depression. Years later, in the 80's, I got a copy of Shizuo Tsukiji's Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, and read Fisher's introduction. I was fascinated by her tie-ins of Japanese foods to Euro foods and culture, and that got me started on trying to find her other writings (much was out of print) as well as any other food writings. I remember reading Trillin's American Fried before it was republished in the Tummy Trilogy. Fisher's older books were reprinted in the late 80's.

                  If you liked Bourdain, I would recommend Bill Buford's Heat. It also has to do with a life journey, in this case a journalist's trip down the rabbit hole of Mario Battali's world and immersions into his restaurants and learning and apprenticing in Italy and elsewhere. It showcases a different side of the cooking culture, but shows how the intensity and dedication are consistent amongst great chefs.

                  If you haven't done so yet, get a copy of Trillin's Feeding a Yen and read New Grub Streets. It should be mandatory reading for all Chowhounders.

              4. Along with the references made by the other posters, I suggest you read Michael Pollan. Any and all of his books. You'll have an entirely different idea about what you eat and why.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Gio

                  You must have missed my review of the Michael Pollan lecture, Gio, )I thought you were reading me) which I was fortunate to have attended since I was frozen out from buying a ticket. Btw, I got him to autograph my newly minted copy of Omnivore's Delemma.

                  1. re: fruglescot

                    I actually did read your report of the lecture FS. I just forgot. Mea culpa... CRS, you know. ;-)

                  2. re: Gio

                    But just as some feel that we should omit or at least identify the scientists, we should do the same for the muckrakers, including Polan, Eric Schlosser and Upton Sinclair, as Ipsedixit identified. It's most certainly informative material, but not what you want to read to inspire you to try new foods and great flavors.

                    1. re: applehome

                      IN DEFENSE OF POLLAN
                      I apologize for not being familar with the writings of Schlosser and Sinclair, however, I am reading M.Pollan currently. Your categorization of him as a 'muckraker' might be more applcable if one was an owner of a large feedlot, a fast food chain or a world grain operation but speaking as a simple consumer I find his writing empowering. I am "inspired" and concerned at the same time about what basic ingredients are going in to my" great food and great flavors" as you say and I would think, you should feel the same.
                      In this era of corruption, misleading information, artificial ingredients, scientific manipulation, an epidemic of diabetes, and gigantic agricultural monopolies perhaps the writings of those aforementioned authors are, in fact, mandatory reading.

                      1. re: fruglescot

                        No disagreement in terms of the importance of Pollan's writing. Pollan is indeed a great muckraker because he has raked the biggest amount of muck - he points out systematic failures with huge and catastrophic consequences, not because of an individual or a company or even industrial greed, but much worse, because of the failure of an entire socio-economic system, from government to producer to consumer, that may destroy humanity if it continues in its current path.

                        Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation is a great expose of a single vertical industry - from beef to McDonald's. The recent movie has little to do with the book. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is also anti-beef industry, but is a much more political and generalized anti-corporate, pro-socialism tome from a century ago. It is a classic that should be read by everybody that is thinking about the effects of corporations on the social condition. No offense, but I sometimes wonder how people get through school these days without reading Sinclair. Actually, as far as "this era of corruption, misleading information, artificial ingredients, scientific manipulation, an epidemic of diabetes, and gigantic agricultural monopolies", check out what was going on in 1905.

                        It should be pointed out that both Schlosser and Sinclair wrote other muckraking books, but not about food. Schlosser has written many articles about everything from marijuana to porn, and Sinclair wrote books about oil (recently made into the movie There Will Be Blood), coal, religion and banking.

                        But there is a fundamental difference between these types of issues and the food writing that is about the discovery of new and wonderful things to eat. Most of the writing on this growing list is about experiences, either as a consumer finding and sharing new and delicious foods in new and wonderful places, or as a preparer of food learning new techniques, ingredients, history and culture. So I would segregate this class of muckrakers as being a somewhat different subject - albeit a very important one.

                        1. re: applehome

                          sinclair's "the jungle" actually could be considered the book that raked the most muck-- a lot of our current food sanitation standards were put into effect as a result of the public outcry after the public read this work. sinclair also did not intend to write about the state of meat/slaughterhouse practises in the 1900s-- he meant to write a social criticism similar to dickens, about the plight of the largely immigrant underclass in urban america. as it turned out "he meant to touch americans' hearts, but he ended up hitting their stomachs."

                  3. I think my all-time favorite is probably Ruth Reichl.

                    Can't leave out James Beard, of course.

                    Bittman is a current fav.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Bostonbob3

                      I've never read any of her books; Reichl's food reviews are amazing works of expressioin. If you can dig it up, check out her reviews of Peter Luger's or of omakase in the NYT.

                      Btw, as discussed in other recent threads here, Henry Hong is an up and rising food writer (also chef), in Baltimore, of the David Foster Wallace variety.

                      1. re: Minger

                        Add Mort Rosenblum ("Olives") to the list.I also like Eugenia Bone's "At Mesa's Edge," because I know the territory.

                          1. re: jayt90

                            Thanks for digging those up. I've only had a chance to read her editorials in Gourmet, and I really look forward to them. I'm going to have to find some of her books now, I've been convinced!

                      2. Craig Claiborne, Gael Greene (about FOOD specifically, i'm not a huge fan of her fiction work) and Ruth Reichl are my absolute favourites