I attended a splendid dinner party recently. Thinking about how I could contribute to the evening’s gaiety, I realized all the guests were people who were serious about good food. For fun—because this is my idea of fun—I put together a list of books written by people who have devoted their lives to the enjoyment of food.
**Incidentally, if conversation lags at your next dinner party, try this question: “What is the earliest food you remember eating?” Responses will be surprising and entertaining.
Bones, Blood, and Butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (2011)
Chef and owner of the acclaimed New York City restaurant Prune, Hamilton offers an engrossing memoir of her idyllic childhood and her training as writer and chef. After her parents divorced, she was adrift for years, but kept returning to the kitchen to earn her livelihood. She describes the unlikely founding and success of Prune. This is a beautifully written memoir.
The Gastronomical Me by M.K. Fisher (1943)
This classic book is worth rereading. It is a story of a woman determined to live her life to the brim. As a young bride, M.K. Fisher sailed with her husband to Dijon, where she encountered French culture for the first time. Her writing is energetic and frank—Fisher describes the people and food with an unsparing eye.
Heat: An amateur’s adventures as a kitchen slave, line cook, pasta maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford (2006)
This is a humorous recounting of Buford’s time in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo. If you have ever aspired to try your hand in a professional kitchen, read this first.
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alec Prud’homme (2004)
If you only read one book on this list, let it be My Life in France. When Child went to France in 1948, she fell in love with French food. She couldn’t speak the language; she knew nothing about cooking, but by combining her new passion with sheer persistence, she became a master chef. She labored for years with her two writing colleagues to produce the seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She was so joyous! Photographs taken by her husband Paul are a bonus.
The Table Comes First: Family, France and the meaning of food by Adam Gopnik (2011)
I love the essays of Adam Gopnik. In this book he takes a look at our food culture, tracing how we have reached this odd place in America where we seem obsessed about food, but have lost the understanding of the importance of sitting down together for a meal.
Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the table by Ruth Reichl (1999)
I would like to meet Ruth Reichl. Her writing is warm, funny, and insightful. She tells the story of her life from the perspective of a person who loves to eat. The recounting of the early days at her “politically correct table” in Berkeley in the 70’s has just enough cynical edge. The sequel is Comfort Me with Apples: more adventures at the table (2001).
Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin (1999)
Read anything you can find by Calvin Trillin, one of the wittiest writers ever. He loves to find good eating in authentic restaurants in out-of-the-way places. Trillin is convinced that America’s most glorious food is not to be found at pretentious restaurants. Tummy Trilogy includes three books, American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings.
These books are available from your local public library and Parnassus Books, Nashville.