Books in the category: Food writing and issues

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentices is the only reasonably unvarnished account of what it was like to work at el Bulli. Alongside occasional descriptions of the creative process involving Adrià and his key chefs, the book’s main focus is on the life of the unpaid apprentices lucky enough to have been selected to spend a season at the restaurant. The book provides interesting insights into the workings of this very special restaurant and the experiences of the people involved, but I found it long and heavy reading. Opinions of this book are likely to vary greatly.

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Penguin Books has released a set of 20 books of writings by authors who penned their food wisdom anywhere between 400 and 20 years ago. Slim paperbacks with pretty covers, the GREAT FOOD series is a hit with many food lovers. We asked our reviewers to have a look at a number of them and give their thoughts. Part 1 features reviews of books by Alexandre Dumas, Samuel Pepys, Pellegrino Artusi and Alice B. Toklas.

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Colman Andrews paints a sympathetic and informative picture of Ferran Arià, a chef who, through passion, obsession and creative focus, almost accidentally made the culinary earth move.

Reinventing Food is worth reading both for the interested and the unbelievers. Especially for the latter group, frequently sceptical of modernist cuisine because of the media depiction of it being laboratory food lacking soul but oozing “cleverness”, Reinventing Food might shed more light on what really is significant and fascinating and (perhaps) delicious about so many aspects of Adrià’s contribution to the culinary world.

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Reviewer says
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Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi is the culinary equivalent of one of those books you find in a museum gift shop – impressive, beautiful, inspiring… but not likely to get opened much after its first reading. And yet, this book will fill you with hope in our culinary future, inspire you to expect more out of your local restaurants, and re-examine the food on your plate.

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In the introductory chapter of his new book, “Medium Raw”, Anthony Bourdain asks “What the fuck am I doing here?” While that statement is made in the context of a dinner with chefs that he admits are countless levels above his own abilities, he also intends as a question about how he has ended up as a fulltime writer and television presenter. While he puts it down to a series of lucky breaks, the other factors he doesn’t mention are a combination of keen observation and very good writing skills.

“Medium Raw” is promoted as a sequel to “Kitchen Confidential”, and in one sense it fulfils that with chapters that update us on the lives of the people in that breakthrough book. But the book also offers writing about his own life, the food world as he sees it and, to his credit, saying how some of his views have changed over time. The usual Bourdain elements are there: the gonzo style of writing, his refusal to sugar coat his opinion, and a healthy splash of swearing. But with marriage and parenthood, a gentler and more sentimental Bourdain emerges too.

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Noted journalist and food-writing instructor Dianne Jacob has revised her award-winning book to include a chapter covering all the how-to’s of food blogging as well as updated resources and new information on working in other popular genres, namely cookbooks and food memoirs.

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William Alexander is determined to bake the perfect loaf of bread. He tasted it long ago, in a restaurant, and has been trying to reproduce it ever since. Without success. But now he’s going to try again—every week for one year—until he gets it right.

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Described by Saveur as “At the top of our bedside reading pile since its inception in 2001,” the award-winning Gastronomica is a feast of exceptional writing on food. The Gastronomica Reader offers a sumptuous sampling from the journal’s pages.

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Reviewer says
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David Chang, owner of the famed New York restaurants Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Ko, chronicles his journey from noodle-eater to noodle-maker and guides us through more than 50 of his most popular recipes that showcase the fusion of modern technique and classic Asian comfort food. Throughout the book he gives us a peek into the creative process and the story behind each dish, citing his influences, failures, and inspirations. The recipes can be daunting and the flavors sometimes need tweaking, but ambitious home cooks should have little problem replicating or improving on the dishes, though the weak instructions and badly converted measurements might lead them astray. While there has been plenty of media focus on Chang’s “bad-boy” image, he still comes across as approachable and self-deprecating at best, and at worst annoying and trying too hard, but never offensive. Fans of modern Asian cuisine and the Momofuku empire will find the book both entertaining and fascinating. [Editor's note: Don't miss our book giveaway too!]

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In the last installment of our feature on year-end releases, we’re taking a look at cookbooks from famous chefs and restaurants, as well as the un-cookbooks: books with essays on food, food issues, and guidebooks on specific subjects.

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Reviewer says
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Based on the food served at Edinburgh’s best-known Italian deli-cafe, Valvona and Crolla, this new recipe book makes for an evocative and mouth-watering read. Organised around the four seasons, there are recipes, personal stories and mini-travelogues, hints and tips, and detailed ingredient information specific to each time of year. Inspiration abounds throughout, supported by recipes which are as reliable as they are tempting. All in all, ‘Valvona and Crolla: A Year at an Italian Table’ is a veritable feast for foodlovers.

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Marco Pierre White’s publishers took advantage of his re-emergence on television in the mid-2000s by reprinting “White Heat”. First published in 1990, this book proved that the public had an interest in recipes that were not intended to be made in a home kitchen.

“White Heat” has been a book sought by collectors, professionals and foodies since its original release. Justin North, the owner/chef of Sydney’s Becasse restaurant commented recently that “This changed the way I saw food. I was an apprentice in New Zealand and it gave me an insight to the manic life of a chef; it made me hungry for knowledge about Michelin chefs.” Its impact in terms of kitchen skills, as a source of inspiration for chefs and cooks, and on the design of cookbooks, is still being felt twenty years later.

“White Heat” also set standards in other areas. The stark black and white photographs are so integral to the feel of the book that the photographer, Bob Carlos Clarke, received a prominent credit on the cover. The layout with its blocks of white space and oversized quotes by White owes more to cutting edge magazines like “The Face” than to the cookbooks of years gone by. Finally, there is the no-holds-barred commentary by White about the many aspects of the life of a chef. “White Heat” was an extraordinary book in its time, and it remains so today.

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Reviewer says
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Big. Bold. Burning! Those words summarize this near flawless book from famed South American chef and restaurateur, Francis Mallmann, and author Peter Kaminsky. Seven Fires refers to the techniques that Mallmann uses when cooking: Chapa, Little Hell, Parilla, Horno de Barro, Rescoldo, Asador and Caldero. You ask, “Where are hibachi and sterno?” Not to be found in this book. Seven Fires is about serious grilling – the type that you dream of doing. The cover teases us with Mallman genteelly grilling over burning embers, but open the cover and whole hogs are split wide, splayed above massive infernos. But not to fear, this book is truly accessible to all.

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Why do millions of people in the less-developed countries go hungry? What can be done about it? This book is the best available analysis of the current world food problem, as well as a provocative assessment of prospects for the future.

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Reviewer says
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The author of the massively popular blog Chez Pim attempts to guide us to appreciating food, dining, and cooking (again) with her unique brand of sass and humor. While the dining tips are useful and the recipes look delicious, some of the material appears simply a supplement to (or derivative of) the blog. Her guide is a mixed bag of earnest, well-thought-out advice and odd name- and place-dropping that somehow makes being a foodie synonymous with being well-traveled and well-connected (or synonymous with Pim’s life), contrary to her stated objectives.

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Reviewer says
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An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a collection skillfully pieced together by Elizabeth David herself, is the perfect introduction to the breadth and depth of her writing. First published in 1984, this collection of articles spanning many decades was inexplicably out of print in Britain for some years (but still available in the US). Here you will find remarkably candid – often hilarious – reviews of books and restaurants; historical essays sit comfortably with the well-loved romance of markets in rural France. Culinary gems are peppered throughout.

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This anthology of writings on food brings together a wide range of literary and non-literary texts from South Asia. It covers a broad range of areas of interest: scholarly, narrative, philosophical, literary, anthropological, and cultural.

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Reviewer says
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It’s 43cm long, 33cm wide, 8cm thick, weighs about five kilograms, has 534 pages, and was one of the most anticipated cookbooks in 2008. From the silver embossed slipcase to the photography and artwork, the writing and the feel of the paper, it would be hard not to notice and admire the Big Fat Duck Cookbook on the shelves of a bookstore.

On initial impressions, perhaps like the restaurant itself, the book appears to be an intimidating creature. Open it and you will be hit by Heston Blumenthal’s passion. Inside is the story of Blumenthal and his restaurant, the recipes and stories behind many of the dishes from the Fat Duck, and a series of essays explaining the science behind the food. Beyond the science, there are journeys into food history, philosophy, personal anecdotes, humour, and the sheer dumb luck that can trigger a great idea. It is a dizzying amount of information in one book. But for those who have read Blumenthal’s previous books, his newspaper columns, or seen his TV show will know that he has a gift for explaining complicated concepts in terms that the layman can understand.

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Reviewer says
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In Kim Sunée’s coming-of-age-memoir, she travels the world and uses food to find herself and the home she never felt she had. Sunée’s narrative is an intensely honest, earnest telling of her story, with a poetic, yet unfussy writing style. Trail of Crumbs details Kim’s life, from early memories of her childhood abandonment in Korea, to her adoption and upbringing in New Orleans, to her travels around the world. Most chapters conclude with a few recipes, appropriate to the setting. The recipes don’t necessarily inspire the reader to jump into the kitchen, but they are a nice touch and complement Kim’s journey in this heart-warming story without a classic happy ending.

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Reviewer says
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Daisy Garnett roasted her first chicken at thirty. It was the first meal she had ever actually cooked, something repeated – and often – throughout the pages of Cooking Lessons. A memoir by a young, emerging cook, Garnett’s recently formed kitchen wisdom is imparted with a refreshing, conversational ease. Her recipes ooze charm and wit. Unleashing this passion during a life-affirming yacht trip across the Atlantic with friends, Garnett is something of a poster girl for the still-growing movement toward reconnection with the simple pleasures of cooking. Here is someone, with the zeal of the newly converted, clearly in love with her subject.

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Reviewer says
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Eating Between the Lines claims to be “A different kind of food tour” and sociologist Rebecca Huntley certainly takes the readers on a journey. The book is a series of discreet chapters exploring aspects of food culture in Australia. From the subtitle of the book, “Food & Equality in Australia”, you might expect the focus to be on poverty, access to food, and perhaps the ability to cook. In fact, Huntley ranges over these themes and adds a sociopolitical agenda involving gender roles, racism, Slow Food and more. At times, the reader might feel that the author lacks much insight into deeper cultural and historical issues, leaving her argumentation a little popular-conscience rather than achieving insightful examination. Nonetheless, many interesting pieces of information come out of the interviews and stories and the footnotes are interesting. I found Eating Between the Lines very irritating, but it’s well written and designed to hit the right “how terrible” buttons with certain types of readers. Huntley might, however, have cast her net a bit too wide, because there are enough touches of sneering through the book that she might well offend even some of her target audience.

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Reviewer says
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Beautiful. This is a stunning production imbued with the personality of the author, local context, and an appealing warmth, packaged with style and a sense of understanding of the author’s values. Maggie’s Harvest is, in keeping with the author’s own philosophy and the prevailing food ideology, organised by season. And in what feels quite Australian, it starts with summer and ends with spring (take that you northern hemispherics!). The only downside? There’s some content reproduced from Maggie Beer’s previous books, but this isn’t revealed.

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Reviewer says
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An attractive book presenting the story of the family of an Australian Vietnamese restaurateur and the Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney. It combines narrative with recipes. The photography is warm. Decorative patterns add a great deal to the appeal of the pages and to the fabric cover. The book is both saddening and frustrating. Despite the visual attraction and the promise of delicious food, Secrets of the Red Lantern presents a bleak narrative and has serious flaws which greatly mar the experience for some readers.

Few Australians have much understanding of the refugee experience or, more to the point, the Australian Vietnamese experience. It is good to see an attempt to recount the situation of people escaping Vietnam to seek a new life, the treatment as refugees in camps and then Australia, and how they have struggled and changed over the last thirty years. Combining this with the theme of food is logical. Many evocative books on food combine personal experience with the web of memory and emotion sustained by food. However, the story of this family involves so much suffering — largely at the hands of the writer’s father — that I found it uncomfortable to read this in what is clearly meant to be a cookbook. By ‘uncomfortable’ I don’t mean confronting; instead, I felt the narrative was out of place in this book.

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New release: White Bread

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How did white bread, once an icon of American progress, become “white trash”? In this lively history of bakers, dietary crusaders, and social reformers, Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows us that what we think about the humble, puffy loaf says a lot about who we are and what we want our society to look like.

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New release: Making Soy Milk and Tofu at Home

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Why make tofu yourself? Because experiencing tofu’s flavors and textures at its peak–freshly made, creamy, and subtly sweet–is the best way to explore this treasured staple. With minimal equipment required and Nguyen’s clear, encouraging step-by-step instructions, making soy milk and tofu from scratch is a snap for cooks of all levels.

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Worth a look: Limoncello and Lemon Water

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Much-loved author Tessa Kiros celebrates the heritage of Italy. This whimsically feminine book is a tribute to the women in our lives – mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers – and the important lessons we learn from them.

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Worth a look: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

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Discover the flavors of Mexican street food in your own kitchen. Americans are having a love affair with the taco. What began as affection for the fast-food version—that hard yellow shell filled with ground beef and mysterious yellow cheese—has blossomed into an all-out obsession for the real thing

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Worth a look: The Aesthetics of Wine

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The Aesthetics of Wine shows that discussing wine within the framework of aesthetics both benefits our understanding of wine as a phenomenon, while also challenging some of the basic assumptions of the tradition of aesthetics.

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Worth a look: Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee

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In 1784, Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The founding Father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose” – to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.

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Worth a look: Turkey

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Turkey’s culinary customs are as rich and varied as its landscape, and award-winning food writer Leanne Kitchen does justice to them both with more than 170 glorious photographs of the country’s foods and people that make readers want to drop everything and board the next plane.

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New release: I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

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This is the perfect holiday baking guide, packed with 72 seductive and decadent chocolate recipes. Offering perfect inspiration for chocolate lovers and holiday do-it-yourselfers, the book includes tips and advice on ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as on packaging and shipping holiday food gifts.

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New release: The Complete Nose to Tail

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Now Fergus Henderson’s books are joined together in a compendious volume. With a dozen new recipes on top of 250 existing ones, more than 100 quirky photos and exceptional production values, The Complete Nose to Tail is not only comprehensive but extremely desirable.

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New release: The Country Cooking of Greece

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The Country Cooking of Greece captures all the glory and diversity of Greek cuisine in one magnum opus from Greece’s greatest culinary authority, Diane Kochilas. More than 250 recipes were drawn from every corner of Greece, from rustic tavernas, Kochilas’ renowned cooking school, and local artisans and village cooperatives.

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