Juicy Non-fiction For Lovers of Food
In film, I love a good off-beat documentary. In books, I tend toward short stories and especially stories highlighting the humors of real life such as those written or edited by Ira Glass and David Sedaris. I am also, officially, obsessed with all things cooking and more recently baking. Which leads me to the goldmine in documentary short stories for foodies: the Best Food Writing series edited by Holly Hughes.
With a keen eye for fascinating topics, clever wit and brilliant writing, Holly has been gathering the best of the best stories and essays from food journals, books, newspapers, blogs and newsletters and compiling them into a roughly 350 page publication since the year 2000. The books are a recent discovery for me. I was hooked in 2010, have since read 2011, and am working my way back to the beginning (currently breezing through 2006).
I love this anthology for several reasons. The stories are all enlightening and most are funny, I am gathering an endless supply of superbly interesting fun-facts, and the stories are usually quite short so I am free to doze off after 10 minutes of reading and wake up the next morning feeling like I accomplished something.
The array of topics these books hit on is dizzying: From a man’s love for tinned sausages to the controversy surrounding foei gras, from the ultimate chocolate chip cookie to the most extreme trends in molecular gastronomy. Stories you’d never imagine: How the tightening of immigration laws (in one very famous, very opinionated chef's viewpoint) will affect the restaurant business. What it’s like to eat cloned beef. What it’s like to eat a guinea pig. How broccolini (which is misidentified as young broccoli) found its name. Detailed accounts of how to make the perfect pie crust, omelet, mayonnaise and patty melt.
To say these books will expand your horizons would be an understatement. While many of the stories shed light on the simplicities and complexities of cuisines, ingredients and dishes, there are a vast number of stories that place you as a fly on the wall of a restaurant kitchen or in the mind of your favorite TV chef or food competitor. Holly includes many tales written by or about the chefs we revere and follow from their cable show to their restaurant to their $50 cookbooks.
The darker side of this is the focus of a story titled “Kiss the Chef’s Napkin Ring” where we ponder how famous chefs have grown to own and operate the food world as our educators, owners and food product hawkers. That is what’s best about this book series, really. There is a constant back and forth between the perspective of the home cook, fried food and sugar junkie, vegetarian, meat lover, outspoken TV personality, obsessed fan, intense critic and unconditional lover of all things “food.”
While most of what fills these books are stories or the more academic essay, there are a large number of recipes in there as well.
Several times I’ve finished a story and ran straight to the kitchen to prove my worth. Most recently to attempt the perfect omelet. It’s just the kind of easy-peasy simply perfect dish that attracts me and so many of the writers in these books. And on the other hand, I only want to prove I can whip up this perfect omelet because I’ve heard countless celebrity chefs say that it is the test of a truly good cook. The stories in these books connect you to both sides of the coin.
For those kindred spirits out there that aren’t ashamed to call themselves a “foodie,” these books will both expand your view on the world and draw innumerable connections between you and the world of food.
You can find copies of the Best Food Writing series at the library and bookstores (for more recent years) and online in used book stores.