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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.