Showing posts with label food memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food memoir. Show all posts

Thursday, March 5, 2015

GIVEAWAY! Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin

Title:   Life From Scratch
Author: Sasha Martin
Publisher: National Geographic
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It was a culinary journey like no other: Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook—and eat—a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother to a string of foster homes to the house from which she launches her own cooking adventure, Martin’s heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal—and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

My Review:

If you like memoirs, and you like food, then look no further, reader friends!  I've got the book for you.

I was initially drawn to this book by that first line of the description.  Cooking food from all 195 countries of the world?  I'm drooling all over myself and I haven't even started reading yet.  If you have a penchant for good eats, you won't be disappointed--Martin peppers her narrative with many of the recipes she's tried over the years, and they sound DELICIOUS.  Especially the Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys Buttercream--I will be dusting off my baking skills to try that out soon.

However, when you begin reading, the culinary delights of this book take a backseat to Martin's emotional retelling of her childhood.  She endured a long list of hardships as she grew up--being sent to foster care, the death of her brother, and the emotional abandonment of her legal guardians, just to name a few--but Martin has a way of telling her story that makes you feel like you are privy to not only the events of her childhood, but also to the emotional journeys that she endured during that time.  This is especially true as you watch Martin's connection with her mother unfold.  She really bears her soul as she attempts to figure out her mother's actions and emotions throughout their tumultuous relationship.  As a reader, I wrestled with my own emotions about their problems, and any memoir that can make you feel part of such a journey is well-written indeed.

Did I still get the satisfaction of reading about Martin's global culinary adventures?  Yes, but by the time that part of the book unfolds, it blends seamlessly into the poignant family history that's already been building throughout the rest of the memoir.  By then, the recipes are about so much more than the food that ends up on the plate.  As such, the last section of the book brings her past and present together perfectly.

I can't say enough good things here, readers!  Go read Sasha Martin's fascinating memoir.  Then cook her recipes and eat all the feelings that it made you have while reading.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Sasha Martin on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

The publisher is giving away a copy of Life From Scratch to one of my lucky readers!  Just use the Rafflecopter below to enter.  US entrants only.  Ends 3/12.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Book Review: Hungry by Darlene Barnes

Title:   Hungry
Author: Darlene Barnes
Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Newly arrived in Seattle, Darlene Barnes stumbles on a job ad for a cook at the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington campus, a prospect most serious food professionals would automatically reject. But Barnes envisions something other than kegs and corn dogs; she sees an opportunity to bring fresh, real food to an audience accustomed to "Asian Surprise" and other unidentifiable casseroles dropped off by a catering service. And she also sees a chance to reinvent herself, by turning a maligned job into meaningful work of her own creation: "I was the new girl and didn't know or care about the rules." 

Naively expecting a universally appreciative audience, Barnes finds a more exasperatingly challenging environment: The kitchen is nasty, the basement is scary, and the customers are not always cooperative. Undaunted, she gives as good as she gets with these foul-mouthed and irreverent--but also funny and sensitive--guys. Her passion for real food and her sharp tongue make her kitchen a magnet for the brothers, new recruits, and sorority girls tired of frozen dinners. 

Laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, Hungry offers a female perspective on the real lives of young men, tells a tale of a woman's determined struggle to find purpose, and explores the many ways that food feeds us.

My Review:

My interest in this book was twofold.  First, FOOD!  FOOD MEMOIR!  YES!  Always a winner for me.  Second, cook in a fraternity house.  I was not affiliated with Greek life while in college, but my husband was in a fraternity.  He went to a different university than I did, so I didn't see his experiences first-hand, but I've heard an awful lot of stories--including those about the food.  So I was very interested to read this and compare notes with him afterwards.

Hungry is a fun, witty memoir that also requires you to concentrate on not salivating on the pages while you read.  I sometimes have a hard time with memoirs that are written too soon after the events that they describe, because they give me the sense that the author lacks enough self-awareness to write about the subject with any sort of distance.  However, that is not the case here.  Barnes is unflinchingly honest about both her triumphs and mistakes throughout her tenure as cook to the Alpha Sigma Phi brothers, and her appealing candor is laced with a humor that makes it even more entertaining to read.  Barnes has been blogging about her adventures in the fraternity house for a while already, and her comfort in writing about the subject shines through in this book.

I was impressed by her determination to bring fresh, local ingredients to the Alpha Sig house.  Barnes's typical menus for the brothers are NOT what you would ever expect to see on Greek Row.  And it was not at all easy for her to produce these creative, delicious meals--between picky eaters, stubborn food suppliers, and unreliable kitchen help, she had her work cut out for her.  But she never lost sight of her ultimate goal, and I found that admirable.  (And by the way, based on the number of stories my husband has shared about the deep-fryer in his fraternity, he was not eating like this when he was in college.  Sadly.)

My only noted downside to the content of this memoir came near the end.  I felt like things got a little rushed in the last chapter or two as it began to wrap up.  I started to get confused about the timeline and whether Barnes was still the cook at the fraternity or not.  I can see how she probably didn't want to get repetitive at the end (since she had already related so many similar stories by that point), but the last section just felt slightly less polished than the rest.

Beyond the memoir itself, one of the best additions to this book is in the RECIPES.  Barnes scatters some relevant ones throughout the text, and that's where the salivation comes in, my friends.  I am moving this book to the "cookbooks" section of my Kindle, in order to remind myself to make every darn creation that she included.  If she doesn't inspire you to get in the kitchen, nothing will.

So, do I want Darlene Barnes to be my BFF?  I dunno, this lady has got a sass-mouth on her that I'm not sure I could handle.  But does this memoir make me want her to be my chef mentor for life?  You freakin' bet.

Much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Darlene Barnes on her website and Twitter.


TLC Book Tours is offering up a copy of Hungry, which is pretty awesome of them, I'd say.  Just use the Rafflecopter below to enter.  US/Canada residents only please.  Giveaway ends the night of September 4, 2013!
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Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Title: Yes, Chef
Author: Marcus Samuelsson
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations.

Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.

Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.

My Review:

You all already know how much I love food memoirs.  I fell in love with them after I tore through most of Anthony Bourdain's.  So it's no surprise that when I heard Marcus Samuelsson was releasing a memoir in 2012, I knew I would have to push it up my reading list.

For those of you unfamiliar with Marcus Samuelsson, he is one of the so-called "Food Network Stars".  He is often a judge on shows like Chopped, and he also competes in other shows (like Next Iron Chef, which he totally got booted from too early, in my ever-so-humble opinion).  I have always loved watching him cook on TV, because he brings some extremely unique international flavor to his dishes.  This book gave me the opportunity to delve into the origins of those skills.

As a memoir, I think the tone was perfect.  There are parts of the book where Samuelsson sounds a bit too cocky--but, he admits as much partway through it anyway.  And you'd probably be pretty cocky too, if you had the rise to food stardom that he did.  He's earned his swagger.  However, despite the arrogance that occasionally leaked through, it didn't turn me off because Samuelsson also spends large sections of the book admitting to his life's mistakes.  He may be near-perfect in the kitchen, but that has not translated to all areas of his life.  He has cheated on girlfriends, been a terrible (though trying to reform) father, and had one restaurant venture that was a total flop.  His ability to frankly tell all areas of his story (personal and professional, success and failure) brought a strong sense of honesty to the text.  It also helps you envision Samuelsson's journey toward maturity throughout his life, which is crucial in a memoir that spans so much time.

One aspect of Samuelsson's personal journey that particularly fascinated me was his racial identity.  He is truly a "man of the world": born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised in Sweden, culinary training in the US, Austria, France, Switzerland...the list goes on.  In each situation, his racial identity was challenged and reshaped.  For example, in Sweden, he says he is often seen as part of the "new Sweden", a more modern and multicultural population in that country.  On the flip side, in the US, he is grouped either as an African American, or an immigrant, which carries different meaning than it does in other countries.  He has taken these various histories and made them a part of himself.  That is best illustrated in his latest restaurant creation, Red Rooster, which is based in Harlem and attempts to bring together the enormous variety of cultures there.  Samuelsson places a high importance on helping black culinary students find success in the kitchen, and his passion for this shines through on the page.

And the food?  (This IS a food memoir...I have to talk about the food!)  The food will make your mouth water.  Reading the descriptions of his various menus and kitchen experiments will have you running to the phone to make a dinner reservation, ASAP.  Samuelsson's creativity with international ingredients is truly amazing, and it is intriguing to see how that skill developed as he moved to new restaurants and lived in different countries.

Overall: this is a fantastic memoir, for foodies and non-foodies alike.  Even if you've never seen a single second of Marcus Samuelsson on TV, I guarantee that his personal journey will be enough for you to delve into his book.  And the next time I'm in NYC, you better believe I will be trying to make a reservation at Red Rooster.

Other reviews of Yes, Chef:
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Black Girl Lost...In A Book
Buckling Bookshelves

Have you read any good food memoirs lately?  If foodie nonfiction's not your thing, do you think you'd give one a try anyway if the personal side of the memoir was interesting?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas

Title: Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)
Author: Amy Thomas
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Source: personal purchase (e-book)

Plot Summary from Goodreads :

Part love letter to New York, part love letter to Paris, and total devotion to all things sweet. Paris, My Sweet is a personal and moveable feast that’s a treasure map for anyone who loves fresh cupcakes and fine chocolate, New York and Paris, and life in general. It’s about how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a sliver of cheesecake and about how the life you’re meant to live doesn’t always taste like the one you envisioned. Organized into a baker’s dozen of delicacies (and the adventures they inspired) that will tempt readers’ appetites, Paris, My Sweet is something to savor.

My Review:

Finding my first book for the Around The World in 12 Books challenge was a cinch.  This month's country (France) has been written about from top to bottom, so the recommendations were endless.  However, the one I eventually went with was Paris, My Sweet (mentioned to me by Andi from Estella's Revenge--thanks Andi!).  I thought this was a perfect choice, because it doubles as a book for the Foodies Read challenge (nom).

Paris, My Sweet is the nonfiction account of advertising copywriter/food blogger Amy Thomas during her yearlong stint working in Paris.  After a semester of study abroad in the City of Light during college, she dreamed of eventually returning.  She got the chance at the age of 36 when her job temporarily relocated her there from her longtime home in New York City.  During that year, she experienced all aspects of the city, but especially the ah-may-zing pastries and desserts.  Amy recaps how she ate her way through Paris, while also connecting her food experiences to her personal ups and downs as an expat in France.

I feel like I have to review this as two separate books.  Because first, there's Paris itself: the history, the ambiance, and the food.  OH, THE FOOD.  Amy Thomas pulls no punches when she's describing the positively decadent chocolate, croissants, macarons, cupcakes, et al throughout the city.  I was ravenous before the end of the first chapter.  Each section usually focuses on one type of food (the chocolate chip cookie, madeleines, French toast, etc) and how she experienced it in Paris--along with how it has (or has not) taken off in the NYC restaurant scene.  The contrast between the two cities makes this better than your average food or travel memoir.  (Plus, she provides addresses for every bakery and restaurant she mentions--major score.)

And even beyond the descriptions of the food itself, I felt myself falling in love with the French method of cuisine.  "Fresh, local, and delicious was not the marketing mantra du jour in Paris.  It's just the way it was."  Thomas emphasizes how her Parisians neighbors treasured high-quality ingredients and freshly-prepared dishes, something that is unfortunately undervalued in the US.  It made me yearn for a 3-hour lunch and some local wine.  GAH, divine.

So yes, as far as Paris and the food--this book gets a major thumbs up.

However, then there is the OTHER part of the book: Amy's personal experiences.  To put it plainly, Thomas is just awful at expressing her feelings in a relateable way for readers.  Is she a poor writer structurally?  No.  But she has a complete lack of self-awareness that ends up making her sound spoiled, whiny, and outrageously stuck-up.  She spends the first few chapters recounting how phenomenal her life is: awesome apartment in NYC's East Village, hoppin' social life, amazing job.  Then she gets transferred to the city of her dreams, where she lands a ridiculously perfect apartment (which she doesn't have to pay rent for), gets to work on the Louis Vuitton account, and spends her downtime eating copious amounts of chocolate and jetsetting around Europe.  At one point, she says, "It was almost stupid how picture-perfect my new life was."  And all I could think was, EXACTLY.  Thomas shows positively no humility in these descriptions, and as a reader, I lost all interest in her as a result.  (Best part: when she complains about how she had to work SO MUCH in the summer (wait, like the rest of us?)...but oh yeah, she did have time to vacation in the Loire Valley and the Cote d'Azur.  Oh, and she got to watch the Tour de France from her office.  Please excuse me while I cry all the tears for you.)  Later in the memoir, she starts to talk about some relationship and health problems that she encountered, but by then I found her so eyeroll-worthy, it took me a long time to sympathize.

Also, Thomas breaks a well-known rule of Girl Law: if you're a skinny girl, you don't tell the world about how fat you feel.  I can say this, because I am a somewhat skinny girl, and I know better than to complain publicly about a fat day.  I will not get sympathy.  I keep that sh*t between me and my husband and/or BFF, who are the two humans who will listen to me about it without punching me in the face.  Thomas, however, spends the entire book complaining about how "fat" Parisian chocolate made her, when it is plain from every Googled photo of her ever that that is not the case.  Again, she loses reader sympathy here.

So, overall--as a food memoir (especially a dessert memoir), this book rocks my socks.  I am really glad that I bought a copy, because I'd love to take it with me if I ever visit Paris--all the best foodie spots are mentioned!  And Paris, as a setting, is gorgeously described.  It made me want to hop a plane ASAP.  However, as a personal memoir, Paris, My Sweet falls on its face.  Thomas needs to re-think how she presents herself to her audience.  She had some good stories to tell, but she just doesn't go about it with the right tone.

Foodies--rejoice!  This one is a hit.  But memoirists, you may want to take a pass.

What are your favorite books set in Paris?  How about food memoirs?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: May 2000
Source: Personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine.

My Review:

Remember yesterday, when I mentioned that I signed up for the Foodies Read 2013 challenge?  I love food books.  Especially food memoirs.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  I am a self-proclaimed foodie (if you can be a terrible cook and still call yourself that...hey, I appreciate other people's cooking).  I will try anything and everything you set on my plate.  Plus, some of my favorite memories revolve around food (dinner in the Escoffier Room at the CIA?  Tapas at Cal Pep in Barcelona? Poutine in Montreal? The list goes on).  Before I go into a salivating tangent (too late?), let's suffice to say that I love reading about food.

In honor of that, I am reviewing the first food memoir I ever read (back in 2010)--Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  If you love food, AND you have a crude sense of humor (check, and check) you will enjoy this book.

In this memoir, Bourdain tells the story of how he entered the world of food service.  He chronicles his time at the Culinary Institute of America, and his early years of finding work as a chef after graduation.  He covers the good, the bad, and the ugly of his experiences.  I know that some people who are not fans of his TV shows (No Reservations, The Layover, etc) think that Bourdain is a self-centered, egotistic arse--but this book paints a very different picture.  He covers his successes, and his (major) faults, along the way to becoming the "celebrity chef" that he is now (even though he will probably personally hunt me down and beat me for referring to him as such).

The section of the book about his time at the CIA is easily my favorite.  I am mildly obsessed with the place--my stepfather went there in the 80's, and I grew up hearing his stories, so hearing tales from other Hyde Park veterans has always been of interest to me.  (Aside: if you're interested, check out Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef--awesome info about the full CIA curriculum!)  CIA training is no joke, and reveals much of how Bourdain honed the skills he retains today.  Plus, he obviously peppers the narrative with his various hijinks during his education there, which makes it all the better.

Be prepared to hear about the food industry in all of its dysfunctional glory.  Sex, drugs, uncleanliness, name it.  But at the same time, Bourdain tells stories of his important "epiphanies" over the years--the things that made him love food and want to know how to work well with it.  This passion is much of what's kept him going in such a crazy, work-you-to-the-bone industry for so many years.

The thing I love best about this book is that you can hear Bourdain's voice loud and clear through the writing.  He is sarcastic, obscene, and irreverent, just as you hear him on TV.  He had me laughing out loud, often because I could hear him speaking the words to me in my head.

This book probably isn't for everyone--if you're not interested in the inner workings of the food industry, there are parts that may bore you.  And if you aren't into crude humor, definitely choose a different memoir!  But otherwise, check this one out--it's funny, informative, raunchy, and very much reflective of the Anthony Bourdain you see on TV.

When you're done, check out his other memoirs--A Cook's Tour and Medium Raw especially.  Medium Raw was published more recently, and you can hear how much more seasoned he's become when you compare the two narratives.

What are your favorite food memoirs?
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