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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 authors...here'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

                        1. my two favorites are most definitely calvin trillin and anthony bourdain. i love everything they write.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: radioactivebetty

                            Bourdain got me hooked. jeffrey steingarten has the best articles and description ever. Alan Richman's pretty good although of late he's been a jackass. I also love Reichl. But Jonathan Gold is the guy I want to follow, and be.

                            1. re: risottoman

                              Winning a Pulitzer for a food column is CRAZY. JGold is the main reason I read LA Weekly...fantastic, vivid descriptions that make me feel like I'm eating next to him.

                          2. Dont forget A. J. Liebling. One of the all-time greats.

                            1. Pretty much all of the above, plus...

                              John T. Edge (...an America Story series)
                              Coleman Andrews (Everything on the Table)

                                1. There is much here to look for or re-read, but I would add Richard Olney, Pierre Franey, Roy Andries deGroot, Jacques Pepin, Paula Wolfert, and in wine writing, Hugh and Jancis.

                                  16 Replies
                                  1. re: jayt90

                                    It would appear that I've opened a tempest here on this topic. It really is amazing to me to see the high quality yield brought forward by my request.
                                    With all due respect.
                                    Chowhounds, it appears, are much more than just a knowledgeable group of glutanous diners.
                                    I have more than enough references for a couple of winter seasons of reading.

                                    1. re: jayt90

                                      Roy Andries deGroot - yes, yes, yes. I adore his book Auberge of the Flowering Hearth - even cooked from it once or twice - the most complicated, time consuming, expensive tomato soup I've ever made, but fabulous. I've just started to read Olney.

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        Finally a mention of deGroot!

                                        No one (sadly) has mentioned the great Waverley Root and Curnonsky.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Tell me more about the great Waverley Root and Curnonsky (those I've not heard of before ;-) ).

                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            I admit to unmitigated passion about this subject...

                                            I simply urge you to go the library and check out some Root and Curnonsky, and encounter that level of food writing.

                                            I remember reading Root for the first time, and I was dazzled by the quality of his writing, the level of intellect, entertainment, the way he skillfully interwove personal experience with history. I discovered him when, somewhere along the way, I asked several prominent food historians and writers to recommend the best food writers they knew. Root, Curnonsky, deGroot and David were the top four names that always came up. The only contemporary food writer who approaches that level, IMO, is John McPhee, and I will read anything he writes. His books line my shelves, though most of his writing is not about food. I adore the storytelling and humor of Trillin and Buford, but they aren't at the same level as the first four or McPhee. My highest appreciation and accolades go to those writers who are writers first, and only secondarily happen to be writing about food.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              "My highest appreciation and accolades go to those writers who are writers first, and only secondarily happen to be writing about food."

                                              Can appreciate this sentiment.

                                              One of my favorite "writers who happened to write about food now and then" is C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia. His descriptions of food in these books are magical and memorable and wonderfully evocative. He scatters food references throughout, and they add a real depth to the mythical world he creates in these books.

                                              Some memorable subjects include Turkish delight, mushrooms on toast, the Apple of Life that saves Diggory's mother, The feast at the end of "Prince Caspian", including the soil feast for the tree people, and of course, the Giants' cookbook notes on how to cook Man.

                                              1. re: moh

                                                Oh, that's wonderful. Thanks for sharing that.

                                                I also thought Dickens was a remarkable food writer when his writing turned to food. His descriptions are cinegraphic -- almost like a movie camera followed him as he eyed the fruits in the market, the breads, the ales, the harder stuff.

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  Yes you are so correct about Dickens!

                                                  A regular person who writes about food usually does so because they love food. I love food, I love to write about food, but my descriptions are limited to accolades: "This dish was divine" or "That was an outstanding wine." When a great writer writes about food, they activate all your senses. You taste it, you smell the aromas, you hear the food cooking, you feel the textures in your mouth, and you see it unfold in front of your eyes. Great writing ignites your imagination. And that is why great food writers are writers first.

                                                  There are a lot of great writers listed in this post who happen to write about food. Some I am already familiar with, but like Fruglescot, I see I have a lot of pleasurable reading ahead of me... What a delight!

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Oh...can you tell me which books? I do recall a bit of this in Great Expectations, but what other books have a good deal of Dickens' "food" descriptions?

                                                    1. re: risottoman

                                                      The Pickwick Papers, particularly.

                                                      But passages in many of his other books, as well. Perhaps you'd be interested in this Chow Story, titled "A Feast of Words," at

                                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                                  I used to dote on Root, but I've been rereading him lately, and it just doesn't hold up. The Italy, France, and America books were pretty great at a time when nobody else had really tried to document the difference between. say, the cooking of Molise and the cooking of the Abruzzo, but now, it's hard to look past the wrongish generalizations, the dilatory index-card-powered riffing. He may have been the American Curnonsky, but Curnonsky kind of holds up...

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Sorry, late to party, but If W Root,Andries de Groot and Liebling are mentioned there is a gap. Joseph Wechsberg. Three great food books, as well as others on various subjects. His story in 'Blue Trout and Black Truffles' called Tafelspitz is at the zenith of my fav food stories

                                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                          Oh yes, that is one of my favorite books ever. He was a great writer.

                                              2. Someone I think everyone should read is Angelo Pellegrini. He's more a contemporary of MFK Fisher, but hasn't remained as popular. Two of his books (The Unprejudiced Palate and Wine and the Good Life) hold up remarkably well.

                                                2 Replies
                                                  1. re: vanillagorilla

                                                    Yes to Pellegrini. I actually find him more sympathetic than Fisher. Have read only *The Unprejudiced Palate*, so thanks for the reminder about *Wine and the Good Life.*

                                                    I also second the recommendations of Liebling, Root and Olney (whose cookbooks I read as much for the commentary as for the recipes). Would add John McPhee, above all for *Oranges* and *The Founding Fish*, but also for some of his shorter pieces like the Gibbons profile, *Brigade de Cuisine* and the recent FedEx piece, one third of which was about the delivery of Nova Scotia lobsters across the continent. And, though he's not stictly a food writer, I can't image any food reader not enjoying the most compelling wine book ever written: Kermit Lynch's *Adventures on the Wine Route*.

                                                  2. UPS just delivered "Secret Ingredient" which is a compilation of food writings from The New Yorker. Many of the writers posted here are contributors. Its 575+ pages and I'm looking forward to devouring it this weekend!

                                                    1. Jacques Pepin's memoir, "The Apprentice," is a must.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: floretbroccoli

                                                        I agree 1000%. I couldn't put the book down.

                                                        1. re: RandyL

                                                          I'll pick that up next time I'm at the used bookstore. I saw one there that I don't think anyone else will take.

                                                      2. as a "one off" I urge all to read the "Raw and the Cooked" by Jim Harrison...

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ibstatguy

                                                          Also, the New York Times food writer Kim Severson rocks. I always seek out her byline. I also like Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry (about Le Cordon Bleu) and Madhur Jaffrey, who among other things wrote a food memoir titled Climbing the Mango Trees.

                                                          I recently purchased two good collections - the anthology American Food Writing edited by the wonderful Molly O'Neil and Alone in the Kitchen with An Eggplant. Lots of good food writing in both volumes.

                                                        2. Russ Parsons (How to Read a French Fry, How to Pick a Peach)
                                                          Michael Pollan (Asmentioned below)
                                                          Barbara Kingsolver...normally a novelist (Poisonwood Bible, among others) but her book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" is absolutely wonderful.

                                                          1. Now that she's written a book that's about eating, not cooking, we may have to add Fuchsia Dunlop to the list. Her "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China" is a great read so far (just started reading it).

                                                            1. Please don''t forget Ms. Edna Lewis, the "original" Alice Waters and one of James Beard's (and Marlon Brando's!) favorite chefs. For a taste check out her posthumous essay a couple of months ago in Gourmet mag--abundance without a hint of excess.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: annabana

                                                                Indeed, great suggestion! "The Taste of Country Cooking" is evocative food writing at its best. It captures a time and place that unfortunately very few of us will experience first hand. But her writing is so generous of spirit, it is like you have been invited to have dinner with her and her community.

                                                              2. To me, far and above, is Anthony Bourdain. Can Alan Richman be in this group?

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: RandyL

                                                                  Yeah, Alan Richman's definitely good. A little elitist, but he's got a place.

                                                                2. For me, the golden age of the New York Times was when Molly O'Neill owned the back page of the Sunday Magazine, and Ruth Reichl ruled the Dining Out section. When I read "Garlic and Sapphires", I couldn't believe how many of the original reviews I recognized - sometimes I can get halfway through a novel before I realize I've read it before, and I was recognizing phrases from restaurant reviews that I'd read once, almost 10 years ago.

                                                                  Of current writers with regular columns, I love Jeffrey Steingarten the best. Also love John Thorne. My two favorite chefs who write are Gabrielle Hamilton, of NYCs Prune (her "The Chef" series in the NYT in 2002 was my favorite in the entire series, and I still every once in a while will read a random piece, recognize the voice, and look up to find her byline) and Daniel Patterson of Coi (SF).

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: daveena

                                                                    Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir "Blood, Bones and Butter" is being published in March. I've been waiting for this one; hope it lives up to my expectations!

                                                                      1. re: emily

                                                                        She's getting some insanely over the top praise from Bourdain and Batali already:

                                                                        Her piece in this month's Saveur is just gorgeous. Can not wait for the memoir.

                                                                    1. Judith Jones, the editor who set "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in motion, also writes about food herself. "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" is probably her best known. And Darra Goldstein, who started "Gastronomica", an incredible magazine!

                                                                      1. I like a lot of writers mentioned - MFK Fisher, Jacques Pepin, James Villas, Jeffrey Steingarten makes me laugh out loud, Elizabeth David etc. but the one I return to the most to re-read is John Thorne's first 3 books. I also like Craig Claibourne, Jane and Michael Stern, John T. Edge. One person I don't really enjoy reading is Ruth Reichl. I am currently reading A Sauciers Apprentice and find it interesting enough to finish but probably won't keep after.