Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Food Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about food writing lately & it seems others have, too. Over the summer I bought a copy of Gastronomica which I enjoyed but, alas, not as much as I’d hoped. It’s a beautifully produced quarterly with lovely images, few ads, and a range of articles, essays, and creative work on food. Although I liked it enough to go back for their Julia Child Tribute issue (unread, at the bottom of a pile somewhere around here), I also read it thinking that there was still a lot of room in the food-writing category.

It doesn’t look like Julie Powell or Doug Psaltis are rushing in to fill the gap. The bad reviews of their new books have brought me many smiles these past few days. David Kamp in the Times admonishes Powell to avoid what he sees as
a larger, troublesome trend among young memoirists, who seem to think that repeated references to their poor hygiene and the squalidness of their surroundings give texture and depth to their work. No, no, no! Being subjected over and over again to images of your piled-up dirty dishes and backed-up plumbing (bodily and otherwise) only makes me want to put down your book. Stop it!
I love the “Stop it!” Much better than the currently ubiquitous “ick!” it manages to be both humorous and scolding at once. A lovely moment.

Over at Tingle Alley, you can find a skeptical read of Powell’s book (Julie and Julia, which emerged from her blog and chronicles her efforts to cook every recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year). That book—Child’s book—has epic status in my home, too. Years ago, before I was born, my father went on a business trip to New York City. My parents were newlyweds and my mother was new to Seattle. Every night, so my mother says, she turned down invitations to dine in order to stay home by the phone. But he did not call. He came home, happy and full of stories of many wonderful meals out in the City. Her present? Mastering the Art of French Cooking with recipes marked: he was hoping she could recreate some of that fine dining at home. She was...steamed? frosted? Let's say, as she might, that she found it interesting that he would offer this as a gift. The final straw was his request for Filet de boeuf Prince Albert a recipe for truffle-stuffed beef that contains multiple sub-recipes and takes pages and pages of Child et al.'s book. My mom put her foot down with that one: never! But, she did learn to cook with Julia (as did I). And, for my father’s 65th birthday, my sister and I helped her make the dish for my dad. It was delicious. But, as my mother says, she’ll never make it again.

As for Doug Psaltis, Bookdwarf charts with amusement the little tangle of some very important chefs who seem to have blurbed the book proposal, not realizing the book itself would be so nasty. The Times has some lovely quotations from Jacques Pepin—whose own memoir was so lovely—and Mario Batali, both of whom are distancing themselves from the difficult Psaltis.

So, for now, thinking of going back to M. F. K. Fisher (I love "Young Hunger" and haven't read it in years), looking at the unopened Brillat-Savarin on my shelf, and I’m sticking with Andrea Strong. Strong's weekly newsletter always makes me hungry and happy: that’s good food writing!

2 comments:

Bookdwarf said...

I am definitely on record as hating the Psaltis book. I read Jacques Pepin's memoir recently and loved it! That guy has led some life, so interesting. I also liked Michael Ruhlman's Soul of a Chef, which has 3 parts: in the first, he follows some chefs through the CIA certificate exam, in the second, he visits chef Michael Symon in Cleveland, and in the third, he visits Thomas Keller on CA.
What other food writing do you like?

Anne said...

I thought the Pepin book was just lovely for all the reasons you say--he was super interesting and really generous-hearted. I love Andrea Strong's restaurant reviews and I like Calvin Trillin and R W (Johnny) Apple. For cookbooks, I love Patricia Wells and Ina Garten and Mahdur Jaffrey--all good writers, not obtrusive, lots of joie de vivre w/o being condescending or overly simplistic. Soul of a Chef sounds great. I'm angling for a visit to Keller's Per Se for my 40th birthday (I've got about 330 days to do it...). Thanks for stopping by!