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Dec 1, 2008 10:41 AM

best books for an aspiring food journalist/restaurant critic

I'm looking for any recommendations except traditional cookbooks--whether it is about ethnic cuisines (I recently read Asian Dining Rules and loved it), cooking techniques, restaurant histories, etc.

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  1. buford's "heat", tower's "california dish", ruhlman's "the making of a chef", rw apple's "apple's europe".

    1 Reply
    1. re: steve h.

      great suggestions...two of my favorite books are Buford's Heat and Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef.

      Maybe add some Bourdain in there to get the grittier side of the back of the house?

    2. The "United States of Arugula" by David Kamp is a nice timeline fo 20th Century trends in dining and ingredients.

      1. Hasn't there been some variant of this thread up here since 1998? Anyway: Joseph Mitchell, ``Up in the Old Hotel''; AJ Liebling, ``Between Meals''; Calvin Trillin, ``Tummy Trilogy''; Brillat-Savarin; at least one old review compilation apiece from Gael Greene, Seymour Britchky and Mimi Sheraton; James Beard, ``Delights and Prejudices''; Evan Jones, ``American Food''; Waverly Root, ``Food of France '' and ``Food of Italy''; Kermit Lynch, ``Adventures on the Wine Route.'' For starters.

        1 Reply
        1. re: condiment

          In a sense, yes, there have been many "best books" threads on this board. I took the OP's question to be a bit more specific: What books would be good for an aspiring food critic or journalist? as opposed to What are some good food books?

          Perhaps what could set this thread apart would be short descriptions of why each book is good for a food writer (not just why the book is good).

        2. anything by ruth reichl, anthony bourdain, ruhlman, buford... there's also a collection of the best food writing published each year by holly something or other. i think that will give you a good cross section of various kinds of food writing.

          8 Replies
          1. re: cpark

            Well no, actually. Bourdain is a one hit wonder, interesting as a symptom of food culture, but not so much a writer. If you read the New Yorker piece that was expanded into Kitchen Confidential, you've pretty much read what he has to say. Reichl's insights on her own life, at least in her memoirs, outweigh what she has to say about food. Ruhlman is a useful hack with a bad case of unquestioning chef worship. Bill Buford is a fantastic writer - his book on soccer hooligans was one of the best sports books ever - but Heat is more useful as a memoir of midlife crisis than it is as an exemplar of food writing. (I did like it though.) And the Best Food Writing series is pretty awful, volume through volume - they could rename it Best Solipsistic Food Writing and nobody, including the contributors, would blink an eye.

              1. re: FED

                one more thought on this: try reading Bourdain AND Ruhlman together. Ruhlman presents chefs as they wish to be seen; Bourdain presents chefs the way they are afraid they are seen.

              2. re: condiment

                i think you are accurate in your critiques of the aforementioned writers, but i think the truth of the matter is that their style of narcissistic writing is the direction that food writing is going right now. and ultimately, those books are the type of writing that the thread starter is most likely interested in, right? i have brillat-savarin, mfk fisher, etc on my shelves but i feel like you don't really see sutff like that anymore. too bad.

                1. re: cpark

                  In his way, Brillat-Savarin was even more of a fathead than Bourdain, but time has a way of smoothing down the edges. And of course no writer in history was more narcissistic than MFK Fisher, who conflated food and sex in ways Gael Greene could only dream of, but she was so good at it...

                    1. re: cpark

                      You might like Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen, a beautiful memoir of eating in New Orleans in the age of Katrina.

              3. re: cpark

                cpark, I think you mean Molly O'Neill's American Food Writing: An Anthology.

                Second Waverly Root, Calvin Trillin, RW Apple (adore him) and Buford. Also, Gael Greene, Elizabeth David, Curnonsky. Bruni in the NY Times and other critics there, John Thorne, The Art of Eating, lots of periodicals, Laurie Colwin (love her story on Tomatoes), MFK Fisher, Caroline Bates in Gourmet, John McPhee. Perhaps oddly, I'm not that big a fan of Reichl as writer.

                Learn as much as you can about cooking, the classics in cooking, technique, and about proper service, resto management, the flow of a resto, wine, wine service, regional cuisine, etc. You'll need that knowledge to evaluate if something is being done right or wrong, and to what degree.