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Your favorite food memoir?

Please don't tell anyone, because it's a secret, but I've been toying with the idea of writing a food memoir, by which I mean I am planning to tell a story about a certain time of my life through food. I'm not ready to disclose my premise because my sprout of an idea is just too tender and fragile. Plus, I can't decide whether I want my memoir to be humorous or inspirational, or both. I'm all over the place. But, I am ready to start doing some research and reading and gathering up courage and inspiration.

So, help me out, if you would, please. What are your favorite humorous or inspirational (or both) food memoirs? What did you especially enjoy about the book? What did you find annoying? If possible, can you please describe the book's premise in just a sentence or two?

Bonus points (but definitely not essential) if the memoir was written by an ordinary person, rather than a celebrity or a famous chef or food writer.

Thank you!

~TDQ

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  1. I loved Amanda Hessers book, Dating Mr Latte. Sweet, funny, enjoyable

    6 Replies
    1. re: cheesecake17

      I really enjoyed Mr. Latte, too and it's exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking about how I might tell my own story. I was just about to re-read it when I thought, hey, maybe I should open it up to books I haven't read. I am still going to re-read it though. Even though she is a professional food writer, this is mostly a personal story rather than a career story.

      Have you read her earlier book The Cook and the Gardener?

      ~TDQ

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        It was a sweet love story, not too kitchy, and the recipes were really good. I haven't read her earlier book, but I'll check it out of the library this week. (figuring out the new Brooklyn library system is a pain)

        Jane and Michael Stern wrote a book titled "road food" which was interesting, especially if you like diners drive ins and dives.

        I've read Paula Deens memoir too. She's been through a lot.

        1. re: cheesecake17

          I just finished her memoir. She really laid herself bare, didn't she? I'm not a huge fan of her cooking, but I do like the lady herself. She has overcome HUGE obstacles, and that's always nice to see. And OMG: Roadfood. I read that like it's prose, not restaurant reviews. It's a required part of ANY road-trip, right next to the maps in the glove compartment. :) Not that we use maps anymore, but they're still in there....

          1. re: mamachef

            Definitely not in love with the cooking, but I do like her.

      2. re: cheesecake17

        I have never read Dating Mr. Latte, but the name of the book is absolutely hilarious if you know the meaning of the word Latte in German. E.g. see http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/germa...
        I presume Hesser intended the double entendre.

        1. re: drongo

          Well, I was unaware of the German meaning of the word, so I didn't notice the double entendre,but I will have to be more aware in my second reading.

          ~TDQ

      3. My favorite "food" writer is Andrea Camilleri.
        He's not really a food writer per se.
        He writes good mysteries and the dishes he describes (Italian/seafood) are, IMO, pretty drool-worthy.
        I am a life-long vegetarian and his writing makes me want, no crave, to eat fish/shellfish.

        5 Replies
        1. re: pedalfaster

          That's quite an endorsement, that his writing makes fish and shellfish sound appealing to you! I've never heard of him, but I love mysteries, so why not a food-inspired mystery?

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            TDQ... Firstly, Brava for taking on an exciting but meditative endeavor.

            Then, about Andrea Camilleri: His police procedurals are a bit of a romp through a fictional town in Sicily. (He lives in Rome) I've read all his books that have been translated so far. His police inspector is Montalbano. The descriptions are of meals his housekeeper leaves in the fridge for him or multi-course lunches he eats at his favorite tratoria. I have actually made a few of his meals based on the description Camilleri has written. The whole series is a hoot but the fictional characters are very well devised and the series is so popular that there's an Italian TV show that mirrors the books.

            The most recent memoir I have read is Honey from a Weed by Patience Grey, a British writer who lived in Northern Italy, Spain, Greece, and finally Southern Italy with her sculptor husband. It 's a travelogue of her journey through these countries with regional and local recipes thrown in along the way. Before that it was Rifling Through My Drawers by Clarissa Dickson Wright, she of the Two Fat Ladies fame. Now, that's a really humorous book but fraught with political rants and raves...

            1. re: Gio

              I do enjoy Clarissa Dickson Wright generally, and I enjoyed her memoir "Spilling the Beans", though it seems more like a general memoir of someone who has a career in food than a food memoir. I'll have to give "Rifling Through My Drawers" a try now, too.

              1. re: Gio

                Haha! Thanks, Gio, for mentioning Montalbano. I haven't seen a Montalbano episode in years and years (I have not read the books, but I loved the TV adaption), so I'm going to see if I can dig them up on amazon or something.

            2. re: pedalfaster

              LOVE camilleri. also like the food in Donna Leon's books.

            3. Ooh, fun topic!

              I personally think the gold standard is "The Art of Eating" by M. F. K. Fisher. It's not a memoir like "I was born here, then went to school there, then married this person, and here's what I ate", but she tells of life experiences and reveals herself through her experiences with food in a way that I found very inspirational.

              I haven't read her, but I'm told the writing of Elizabeth David is on a par with Fisher's.

              "Julie and Julia", by Julie Powell, is a good example of how you can reveal yourself with a memoir about a very specific time in your life and the food experiences in it, in a way that is both funny and inspirational. (Her second book, "Cleaving", was interesting but, to my taste, a little overrun by her annoying personality.) And she wasn't a chef or food personality at the time.

              Here are some excellent ones I've read just this year:

              "Blood, Bones & Butter" by Gabrielle Hamilton. Another strong personality who might be a little off-putting in person, but she writes beautifully, and you find yourself caring. It's more of a traditional life story, but a life spent in food.

              "Born Round", by Frank Bruni, is a food memoir of a different sort, not a cook, but a man who has had a life-long struggle with self-esteem around his weight, who then becomes the chief restaurant critic for the New York Times and has to eat out every night. Hilarious and inspirational.

              "The Tenth Muse", by Judith Jones, is the memoir of an enormously successful cookbook editor (she published Julia Child, among countless others), and her life with food and in foodie circles. Very enjoyable.

              Good luck with your book!

              13 Replies
              1. re: weem

                Great ideas, several of which I've read and should re-read! I've been meaning to pick up Gabrielle Hamilton's book but was a little worried it would be more of a professional story rather than a personal story. I think I'll have to read that.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Oh Yes... all together too personal. I love to read and probably read 3 -4 books a month. I had trouble finishing this book. Had to take a break from all the husband bashing, etc...

                  1. re: Gio

                    Uh, husband bashing? Hmmmm...that doesn't sound very humorous and/or inspirational...

                    ~TDQ

                      1. re: GDSwamp

                        beautifully written book-- Hamilton is a writer, as much as a chef. I do not remember husband-bashing. And yes, the book is personal and written by a woman.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      While it is a life story, ranging from her sort of misspent youth, which she freely admits to, the food writing and her experiences are wonderful to read. I didn't find it too personal; it all seemed relevant to the story.

                      1. re: weem

                        Elizabeth David doesn't hide her opinions, but she doesn't write autobiographically as Fisher does.

                        1. re: sr44

                          Thanks for the info on Elizabeth David. I have some of her work, I just haven't read it yet.

                        2. re: weem

                          did not like hamilton's book at all. couldn't wait to finish it; like being stuck on the train with the most unpleasant stranger you've ever met who insisted on telling you about everything she hates.

                          1. re: weem

                            I read all of these this last year (well, Julia & Julia several years ago) - I too had some issues with Cleaving.

                            Liked Gabriel Hamilton's book as well, with just a few moments that were a bit too personally raw for me re; her relationship with her husband - but liked her journey with her restaurant, etc.

                            I also really enjoyed the collected letters between Agnes De Vito and Julia Child - which is a lovely back-and forth between the two women when Julia was living in Europe with Paul, and working to get the book in shape and then published. Very nice inside look at a friendship as well....

                            'As allways, Julia'.

                            Her memoir 'My life in France' is also wonderful!

                            1. re: weem

                              I'm also a great fan of M. F. K. Fisher. I discovered "The Art of Eating" way back in the 70s and reread it several times because I didn't know of any other books like this. I agree she was inspirational.

                              I've also been enjoying John Thorne lately.

                              I'll be eager to read your memoir, TDK. I've always enjoyed your postings.

                              1. re: shoo bee doo

                                Very kind of you, shoo bee doo! I didn't start my memoir last fall as I'd hoped, but I actually plan to start working on it actively this weekend, believe it or not!

                                ~TDQ

                            2. I'll forgo the bonus points. Two of my favorites:

                              1. James Beard's <em>Delights and Prejudices</em>, because he was the most important promoter of good food in the US for most of the twentieth century, because he had countless stories to tell, and because many of those stories are set in or near my home county.

                              2. A. J. Liebling's <em>Between Meals — An Appetite for Paris</em>, because it's literature and because it's set in Paris.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: GH1618

                                I, too, like stories that are set in places I know or can visualize! I think that's really important in food writing because food can be revealing both about a person, but also about a people or a place.

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: GH1618

                                  Agree - these were both LOVELY books!

                                  I have 'delights and prejudices' in my permanent collection, and re-read it every 5 years or so - such a pleasure.

                                2. I loved Bourdain's original - Kitchen Confidential. It was a true depiction of the restaurant underworld - loved it! Every chef I know can relate to the rampant alcoholism and drug abuse, not to mention ridiculously oversized personalities, that exist in the kitchen. For a strict "biography" I enjoyed Pino Luongo's book and Amanda Hesser's book. Haven't read Bastianovich's bio yet, though -

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: ahuva

                                    DO you mean Joe Bastianich's new memoir "Restaurant Man"? The description on Amazon makes it sound absolutely fascinating. I see him on MasterChef and have to say, find him boorish. But, I guess I assumed he was a coat-tail rider. But, it sounds like he's actually earned his place in the restaurant world through a lot of hard work. Interesting!

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      Definitely not a coat tail rider.Truly learned from the apron pocket up.

                                    2. re: ahuva

                                      Bourdains book was a great read. A few weeks after reading it, we saw him in LA, walking past the Ivy and shaking his head.

                                      1. M.K. Fisher and Jeffrey Steingarten. Both completely different but both incredibly intelligent. Steingarten's books are witty and compelling. Very difficult to put down.

                                        Thought of another. Escoffier.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: chefathome

                                          It just doesn't get much better than those.

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Oh DO. He's knowledgeable, a great writer. And very, very funny sometimes -- particularly when he acknowledges his own foibles. There's a piece in one of his books about a fishing trip in North Carolina's Outer Banks (he leaves from a marina I must have driven past a hundred times), and it starts with him modelling his new fishing togs in front of a mirror and admiring himself.

                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                He seems dour on TV sometimes but he is remarkably funny and knowledgable. They are books you can read over and over and still laugh out loud.

                                                1. re: chefathome

                                                  I found something eerily contrived about Steingarten's humor. I felt that much of "The Man Who Ate Everything" was largely made up. How can anyone hate (in his case, Greek) an entire cuisine? It has NO redeeming attributes, not even one? I was not amused.
                                                  CP

                                                  1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                    That's not entirely accurate. I, myself, have a fairly strong dislike of Korean cuisine. And an antipathy toward Ethiopian that is more than enthusiastic. And German? Take away Sauerbraten and you can have the whole flipping mess.

                                                    1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                      I agree. I love food writing and have enjoyed Reichl, Dunlop, Bourdain, Lee and others - but didn't finish Steingarten's book. It felt disjointed somehow, and failed to keep me interested.

                                              2. M.F.K.Fisher, hands down. The only food memoirist who turns her memories to art.

                                                Ask any of the contemporary food writers, and they'll acknowledge her influence. Even Elizabeth David is a far second, in my opinion.

                                                And when Fisher wrote her first book, Serve It Forth (1939), she was an "ordinary" person.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pickypicky

                                                  Really excellent point about Serve it Forth!

                                                  ~TDQ

                                                2. All posts good suggestions.

                                                  I would add Jim Beard and Craig Claiborne,but 99% of their diary,personal food writing is scattered through years of out of print recipe books.Beard's DELIGHTS and PREJUDICES is just a tiny taste of his writing.
                                                  A different read,A MEAL OBSERVED Andrew Todd Hunter
                                                  another tack,BETWEEN MEALS A.J.Liebling

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: lcool

                                                    Liebling's writing is simply fantastic.

                                                    Claiborne's memoir is a bit offputting.

                                                    1. re: jmckee

                                                      Apart from "Beween Meals", which is an undeniable classic (and his "je ne regrette rien" swan song) Liebling's other stuff is larded with food references. His work should be taken as a whole. Mencken also has some fun recollenctions of food of Baltimore, such as oyster flitters( fried oysters) In a line echoed by Liebling years later, HLM refers to someone's awful flitters as having been fried in "curve grease borrowed from the local street railway." Waverly Root is good, too. He was way ahead of Mario (who may have gotten it from Root) in talking about the grease a region uses.

                                                      1. re: jmckee

                                                        I just read "Talking with my Mouth Full" by Gail SImmons and I found it to be a good read. She was Jeffrey Steingartens assistant for a year and has quite a few stories to tell.

                                                        1. re: smithareeny

                                                          I really enjoyed that - and some of her recipes sound scrumdiddlyuptious. I loved the little "capsule" at the beginning of each chapter.

                                                        2. re: jmckee

                                                          I would agree about Claiborne's memoir,missing most of the anecdotal heart and colour that were part and parcel of many other things he wrote.

                                                          I think you would really enjoy the Hunter,liking Liebling as much as you do.

                                                      2. Though it's not all about food, the food and drink of Paris in the 1920's are central to Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I adore it.

                                                        1. I think Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking are some of the best and least pretentious food writing around. Which is odd because her novels (she was mostly known as a novelist) are pretentious. Her food books describe a number of life slices, and also have great recipes, in fact her recipe for jalapeno spinach casserole has been my go-to for 20 years.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: omoshiroi

                                                            Oh, I loved her food writing! She started me on making black cakes every year for Christmas with her Gourmet piece about them - which is still in my baking binder, with layers of annual notes all over it! I'm going to look for the casserole recipe!
                                                            It was sad that she died so young. I always wonder how she would have observed the changing food scene. Never read her novels.

                                                            1. re: onthelam

                                                              So, I just pulled my copy of Home Cooking off the shelf. I acquired this book used.Tucked inside the cover was a Colwin article clipped from Gourmet Magazine (January 1993, "More About Gingerbread", I think) and a note scrawled "Beware of the Black Cake!"

                                                              Apparently the person who had this book before me did not appreciate that particular recipe!

                                                              ~TDQ

                                                            2. re: omoshiroi

                                                              Agreed, her writing makes for a very congenial read.

                                                              1. re: omoshiroi

                                                                My copies are dog-eared and shopworn. She's rather more like a chatty friend than a writer.

                                                              2. Jim Harrison's "The Raw and The Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand" is one of my all-time favorite food reads. While not a memoir, it is a collection of food-oriented essays spanning years, each of which reads almost like a mini-memoir, if that makes any sense. Harrison's skill as a poet and fiction writer comes through in the very vigorous and richly descriptive prose, and his respect for the place of food in the context of one's idiosyncratic life is very apparent. Very, very highly recommended.

                                                                1. "You probably know, even if you have never tasted them, that Lafite is synonymous with elegance, Mouton with power. Lafite is fragrant and ethereal, Mouton loud and fleshy. Lafite is Leonardo to Mouton's Michelangelo. If they made clothes, Lafite would be Armani and Mouton, Versace. "If Lafite was an artist, it would be Chagall", Eric Rothschild once told me. "If a musician--Mozart."

                                                                  - Jay Inerney from the book Bacchus & Me

                                                                  1. A British friend gave me "Toast, the story of a boy's hunger" by Nigel Slater. It's kind of his childhood and coming of age remembered through his family's pantry. I loved it.
                                                                    I also remember liking Sallie Tisdale's "The Best Thing I Ever Tasted", but i think there was more history and social stuff woven through it - I read it at least ten years ago, so I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.
                                                                    Hmm, maybe I need to re-read some things. Thanks!

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: onthelam

                                                                      Ah, yes, Toast has been on my list for awhile, though I keep forgetting about it. Did it get made into a movie or am I making that up?

                                                                      Haven't heard of the Tisdale book... Maybe should look into that.

                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                        I'm not sure if the movie ever got made, but I know it was in the works after the book was published. I found this to be excellent writing both about food and his childhood, although many parts of it are really sad. While not an uplifting story, as I said, great writing and I enjoyed his awareness of how foods tied in to his sense-memories; which I understand perfectly!!

                                                                        1. re: mamachef

                                                                          The movie happened, though I recall it getting only middling reviews.

                                                                          http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1658851/

                                                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                                            I streamed this movie a few weeks ago. I loved it. I didn't know anything about this being a true story about the Chef's childhood until after I saw the movie but on it's own I thought the young actor was outstanding.

                                                                    2. I just remembered Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". It's both funny and inspirational, written by a non-food-professional, and an intimately revealing tale about a family's personal growth through their relationship with food over the course of a year.

                                                                      1. Not a memoir so I am unsure if this even counts, but I love Michael Pollan's books. They are very inspiring and compelling. They have actually been life-changing for us and many others.

                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                        1. re: chefathome

                                                                          The Michael Pollan books crossed my mind, too, since he relates his own adventures as he researches. In a similar vein, I thought of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles", by Jennifer 8. Lee. She is a Chinese-American woman (born in the U.S.) who becomes interested in the whole Chinese food industry in America, wondering how things like fortune cookies and General Tsao's Chicken became so popular when they are unknown in China. It's more about the food and the industry than about her, but you get to follow her as she travels the country and goes to China, trying to understand her heritage. Very entertaining and illuminating.

                                                                          1. re: weem

                                                                            Loved the fortune cookie chronicles. Gave it to a friend whose parents own a Chinese restaurant, and she was impressed as well.

                                                                            1. re: weem

                                                                              I thought "Jennifer 8. Lee" was a typo, but I see that actually is the author's name. I just ordered from Amazon... thanks for the suggestion!

                                                                              I'm currently reading Tracie McMillan's "The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table" but I think it doesn't quite fit the type of book the OP had in mind.

                                                                              1. re: drongo

                                                                                Ah, yes, Fortune Cookie CHronicles does sound fun! Thank you!

                                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                                1. re: drongo

                                                                                  You're welcome, drongo! I hope you enjoy it.

                                                                                  I haven't read the McMillan, but I have read other books that talk about how we eat today, such as the Michael Pollan books and "Fast Food Nation". They are fascinating (though probably more relevant to a different thread, as you say).

                                                                                2. re: weem

                                                                                  Agree! Fortune Cookie Chronicles was a great book - a very light and fun, yet informative read.

                                                                              2. Don't know whether this counts as a "food memoir" or not, but I really enjoyed Jacques Pépin's "The Apprentice." A remarkable life story, well told, with seriousness and humor in a nice balance.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: John Francis

                                                                                  Totally agree. I was going to mention this one if someone didn't.

                                                                                  If you already know who Jacques is, this book will make you think he's the coolest guy in the world.

                                                                                  If you've never heard of Jacques, this book will make you think he's the coolest guy in the world.

                                                                                2. What about Fuchsia Dunlop's "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper"? She was a well-known when she wrote it, so it doesn't get your bonus points. But it's a good example of telling a story of her life through food.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: drongo

                                                                                    I read that when it came out. Fun read, though it bogged down a little towards the end. Thanks for the reminder.

                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                    1. re: drongo

                                                                                      Agree 100+. Of all the food memoirs I've read, Dunlop's is my favorite. Honest, daring, soul-searching at times and delicious. Her recipe for Gong Bao chicken is in "Shark's Fin," and it's the first Chinese recipe I ever tried at home. Now I have all three of her cookbooks. DH has never been happier, ha!

                                                                                    2. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone: funny, touching and informative. I've not read the others yet (Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic & Sapphires). Ruth Reichl was a noted New York Times food critic for a number of years, but her first book, Tender at the Bone, recounts her years growing up and her relationship with food, and recounts some very funny and horrifying stories about her mother, possibly one of the worst cooks ever.

                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: mangiare24

                                                                                        I read her Garlic and Sapphires, which was a pretty fun read about her years as a restaurant critic, but didn't realize that Tender to the Bone was more of a personal story. I'll have to look into that. Thank you!

                                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                          Oh, "Tender at the Bone" was a great great read. If you like it, check out "Comfort Me With Apples," which is also very very personal, about her early years here in the Bay Area, before life exploded for her. Wonderful reads.

                                                                                          1. re: mamachef

                                                                                            I was coming to mention those books, too. "Comfort Me With Apples" is great.

                                                                                        2. re: mangiare24

                                                                                          Reichl is a great read. I've read all three of her books. Garlic & Sapphires is my favorite - it covers her time as the NYT critic - the other two are about her life generally, so are more personal and less foodie (although food is definitely in there).

                                                                                        3. This is a stretch, but: "The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection" by Robert Farrar Capon. An amazing tour de force through a single recpie: "Lamb for eight people four times". In the process he talks about everything from knives to dieting to alcohol to heartburn. And, as he is an Episcopal priest, spirituality. There's nothing else like it.

                                                                                          http://www.amazon.com/The-Supper-Lamb...

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: jmckee

                                                                                            Yes! It was wonderful, wasn't it?! Have you read any of his others? I think Supper of the Lamb was one of his earlier publications.

                                                                                            1. re: clepro

                                                                                              I haven't, but they keep coming up on my Amazon suggestions. I gave a copy to our CEO, who among other things is a man about the kitchen, and he was amazed.

                                                                                          2. TDQ, I love this topic and totally encourage you to forge ahead with your "tender sprout" of an idea.
                                                                                            Classically speaking, M. F. K. Fisher is my favorite writer, but I've read several food memoirs recently (ok, maybe not SO recently) and thoroughly enjoyed them. You might check out, "Stealing Buddhas Dinner" by Bich Minh Nguyen, or "How to Eat a Small Country" by Amy Finley. "Trail of Crumbs" is also marvelous, and you should DEFINITELY check out "Life, on the Line" by Grant Achatz. Then, there's always "Heat" by......dammit, I forget and I don't have it to hand. And there's a great anthology of food writing that might give you some inspiration, and it's called, "Death by Pad Thai." Finally, "Four Kitchens" by Lauren Shockey is excellent. Good luck, lady!!

                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: mamachef

                                                                                              You are all very kind, thank. I'm not replying to every recommendation, because that would make the thread crazy long, but there are a ton of great ideas in here, both for books and authors I've never read, and some old favs that I'd forgotten about.

                                                                                              Amy FInley--is she the one who was ever so briefly the Next Food Network Star?

                                                                                              Heat, by Bill Buford?

                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                Yep, that's the gal. The reason for "ever so briefly" is that her husband objected to her even auditioning, much less WINNING. He wanted a traditional marriage, and she wanted to save her marriage, so they embarked (w/ 2 very young children) on a food journey through France to try and do that.
                                                                                                Yep: Bill Buford. Boy, do you know your stuff. :0

                                                                                                1. re: mamachef

                                                                                                  I Actually kind of liked Her and her one Mexican fiesta inspired episode!

                                                                                                2. re: mamachef

                                                                                                  Stealing Buddha's Dinner is one of my favorite especially since I can totally relate the joys of being Vietnamese in a non-Vietnamese culture.

                                                                                                3. No bonus points for me on the "normal person" front (maybe even demerits!), but Julia Child's "My Life in France" is a favorite of mine, and I think actually fits your query well. It is, of course, about her real discovery of the world of food and cooking, and of herself through her involvement in it. I would call it inspirational - Child's energy and determination really propelled her forward - and of course it is humorous, because it is Julia Child, who had a great sense of humor, not least about herself. Of course her story is terrifically interesting in its own right, but one of the things I love about "My Life in France" is how wonderfully her voice and personality are captured throughout.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                                                                    I can't believe I've never read it! I'll put that on my list, too.

                                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                                  2. Maybe I missed it in the growing list but if not, can't believe there's no mention of Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey. Not only is it one of my favorite food memoirs, it's one of my favorite books, period.

                                                                                                    1. I've just finished the award-winning 'Plenty' by Australian ex-chef and food writer Gay Bilson. Bilson ran one of Australia's best restaurants for 18 years and was involved in two others. She writes about her experiences in setting up and running the restaurants as well as her participation in large-scale arts festivals and her favourite food writers. Highly recommended. I've also just started my own food memoir blog and enjoying all the memories.

                                                                                                      1. Lots of good ideas here. In particular, I second the recommendations for Fisher, Liebling, Child, Jaffrey, and (with some reservations) Reichel. And two big thumbs up for wild eater Jim Harrison's book, which cayjohan described perfectly.

                                                                                                        I just finished the Tenth Muse and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I have a feeling it's not what you're looking for; the tone is more dispassionate and once-removed than I sense is your aim.

                                                                                                        A long-time favorite of mine is Angelo Pellegrini's The Unprejudiced Palate. I lent it to a careless friend long ago and mourned its loss for years. Fortunately, it's since been re-released, so I was able to replace it. It's not a straight up memoir, but there's plenty of that woven in.

                                                                                                        I can't recommend this next one personally yet, because I'm sitting at something like spot 975 on the library's wait list, but a good friend whose taste I trust recommended Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef.

                                                                                                        And, I'm digging around in my shelves trying to find this obscure little book written by a woman who learned to cook kosher from her mother in law that I read a couple of decades ago. Can't remember the title, but I remember it being one of those books you sink into.

                                                                                                        Found it! Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Ehrlich.

                                                                                                        Oh, and Claudia Roden's old Book of Middle Eastern Food (not the new one), while a cookbook, doubles in many places as a memoir.

                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: clepro

                                                                                                            Miriam's Kitchen was a great book. Definitely an eye opener for someone who doesn't keep kosher. And being a kosher keeper all my life, it really opened my eyes also.

                                                                                                          2. So many terrific books already mentioned. I'll add a couple that may or may not be listed.

                                                                                                            I really enjoyed the sweet, vulnerable writing in The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto.

                                                                                                            I also loved The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone.

                                                                                                            I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci was a fun, light read.

                                                                                                            Living in a Foreign Language, by Michael Tucker, was a fun chronicle of how he and Jill Eikenberry moved to Italy and made a new life for themselves.

                                                                                                            I've also loved anything by John Thorne.

                                                                                                            The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn was an enjoyable account of her time at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

                                                                                                            Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee was a remarkable story, but my heart broke for the little girl who had to face so much abandonment.

                                                                                                            Dating Mr. Latte was fun.

                                                                                                            These are all additions to the really strong recommendations of Fisher, anything to do with Childs, Gabrielle Hamilton, Marcus Samuelsson, Pepin, Reichl, Steingarten, and any other classics mentioned.

                                                                                                            7 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: bear

                                                                                                              Second the John Thorne recommendation. His books make one (me!) want to cook, shop, and eat. And just sit back and enjoy. As it happens, I lent my copies to my dad-the-widowered-engineer during what turned out to be the end of his life, and he got a lot of enjoyment out of them as well. We talked about them and ate out of them quite a bit. So there's a little memoir right there, I guess. Go TDQ!

                                                                                                              1. re: monfrancisco

                                                                                                                That's a lovely story. I bet that John himself would feel pretty darn good about touching your life and your dad's that way. Thanks for sharing that.

                                                                                                                1. re: bear

                                                                                                                  It is a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it, and for your recommendations! (and the enouragement!)

                                                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                                                2. re: bear

                                                                                                                  Kathleen Flinn's book was great. Made me want to go to culinary school.

                                                                                                                  I loved, I lost...
                                                                                                                  Read it, but don't remember it!!

                                                                                                                  1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                    That's because it wasn't deep, but it was light fun.

                                                                                                                  2. re: bear

                                                                                                                    I agree about Giulia Melucci's memoir - very nice voice & enjoyed the recipes - it's like an Italian "Looking for Mr. Latte"

                                                                                                                  3. The Country Kitchen, by Della Lutes. You can still buy used copies on Amazon, and they sometimes turn up at thrift stores and yard sales.

                                                                                                                    1. Big fan of Kathleen Flinn's "The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry." Certainly doesn't romanticize culinary school, but at the same time tells her own sweet love story with her (now) husband, and being set in Paris is not too shabby either...

                                                                                                                      and Julia Child's last book, "My Life in France."

                                                                                                                      1. I second animal, vegetable, miracle. Made me so much more aware of what I eat, and where my food comes from. Easy, enjoyable read.

                                                                                                                        1. A very small, easy to miss memoir entitled, "Life, Death and Bialys"...
                                                                                                                          http://www.amazon.com/Life-Death-Bial...

                                                                                                                          "Death & Bialys is about how an imperfect father said goodbye to his son and to his city and how a reluctant son discovered the essence of forgiveness."

                                                                                                                          1. I love "My life in France".

                                                                                                                            it is a wonderful read as told, for the most part in Julia's own voice. To hear about who and where she was upon arriving in Paris and the enthusiasm for which she embraced her new home is infectious. Even more interesting is how her appreciation and love for food grew. Paul and his commitment to her and her work is terrific. It's not just about Paris it is about her love of the country of France it's food and the people. It is a great telling of a wonderful couple during an extraordinary point in there lives. Made all the more poignant because the reader knows it is Julia Child's last book one she did not get to see published.

                                                                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: Withnail42

                                                                                                                              I enjoyed reading My Life in France but I enjoyed this one by David Lebovitz even more:
                                                                                                                              http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Life-Pari...

                                                                                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                I have that one sitting on my shelf as we speak hope to get to it soon.

                                                                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                  I enjoyed the Lebovitz book. A smart, funny, personal journey focusing on food. The irony, though, for a book that intended to show the reader how he fell in love with Paris, is that it reinforced all my negative stereotypes about Paris (rudely aloof people, challenging culture, byzantine bureaucracy, etc.) and didn't make me want to visit there any more than I had previously. But I'm probably in the minority with that reaction. :-)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: weem

                                                                                                                                    Yes, I also loved The Sweet Life. I forgot to include it in my list. David is really funny.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: weem

                                                                                                                                      Some small part of every stereotype is based on truth. I respected his candor. And as an American IN Paris, expected some level or scrutiny of that kind. He fell in love, warts and all...as he saw it.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                      I was finally able to read The Sweet Life In Paris. I agree it is a terrific book very poignant at times and at others laugh out loud. And having spent some time in Paris many of his struggle are all too familiar.

                                                                                                                                  2. TDQ, good luck to you! (and this is a fabulous thread) I hope you'll tell us when the book is available for pre-order. ;)

                                                                                                                                    1. This is a great thread. I live in Vietnam and it's always hard to stay motivated to cook international cuisines due to the scarcity of 'Western' ingredients. I often turn to sth like food memoir or culinary film/documentary/TV show to reinforce my love affair with food. Please keep them coming. Thanks all of you.

                                                                                                                                      1. Two favorites are "Miriam's Kitchen" and "Sustained by Eating Consumed by Eating Right" (new). Both ordinary but moving, sincere. Meaning more than technique.

                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                        1. re: michaelmachis

                                                                                                                                          Mariam's kitchen was an interesting book for me. I keep a kosher kitchen and I liked the view of an outsider looking in. I never realized it was so difficult!

                                                                                                                                        2. I like many mentioned here, especially "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and "My Life in France," but my all-time favorite food memoir is "Stuffed," by Patricia Volk. Her descriptions of her relatives, who she defines by their cooking and eating habits, and both hysterical and heart-wrenching.

                                                                                                                                          1. Just saw this thread, and was surprised no one mentioned Calvin Trillin's love note to his wife and to food, "Alice, Let's Eat"

                                                                                                                                            I also loved Mimi Sheraton's (used to write for the NYTimes) book "From My Mother's Kitchen," where she reminisces about growing up while also getting her mother to recreate beloved recipes by getting the mother to measure ingredients (mother pours something into her hand, Mimi scoops into measuring spoons to get into the book). Half story, half cookbook, and a great guide to "kosher style" food.

                                                                                                                                            1. I recently finished an endearing book that is a memoir with recipes at the end of each chapter that I really liked.

                                                                                                                                              "My Berlin Kitchen' by Louisa Weiss. Nice 'voice', and a good combination about her struggles in her personal life and her growth as a food writer and blogger.

                                                                                                                                              Another one that is sort of the same idea - but with more recipes - a few years old, but a pretty impressive piece of writing for such a young writer; 'A Homemade Life' by Molly Wizzenberg. I first found her as a blogger on her page 'Orangette', but since have actually gotten to know her at least a little as she lives here in SEA where I do and we have mutual friends.

                                                                                                                                              Her 'voice' get's a bit annoying at times in the book if you try to read through too much at once, but the topics are great - about her late father, her unlikely romance that blossomed out of her blog, her couple of stints living in Paris. Well worth a try at least, and the Coconut Macaroon recipe is my FAVORITE! Beats a French Macarron any day:)!

                                                                                                                                              1. For me it's Jacques Pepin's "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen"

                                                                                                                                                http://www.amazon.com/Apprentice-My-L...