I have a research project in mind, and it is giving me the perfect excuse to read endless numbers of cooking memoirs and other books about food. Here are a few I've read lately:
Poor Man's Feast is Elissa Altman's lovely memoir about falling in love and the food that accompanied that process. Altman's upbringing involved fancy, fancy food, and she is in love with tall food and expensive ingredients and elaborate cooking, yet Susan cooks simply yet in ways that nourish more fully. These memoir explores what it means to eat well, and Altman gently mocks the tall, ridiculously overpriced meals while also revealing her family history. The book is primarily about food and love. I highly recommend reading this one: the recipes it contains are mouthwatering (I was craving tomato sandwiches for days), and the writing is outstanding. Altman also keeps a blog, Poor Man's Feast, which I intend to read after devouring this incredible memoir.
The second book I happily plowed through was Bon Appetempt: A Coming of Age Story by Amelia Morris. Morris also began her memoir in blog format, creating Bon Appetempt as an avenue to mock the notion of perfection. (She would post a picture of a food-styled recipe, then her own less successful, though delicious, attempt). The memoir focuses on Morris's coming-of-age, her transition from six-year-old wrestler, to awkward teen, to adult and mother. She gives us the story of her family, often wonderful and supportive but also dysfunctional and troubled, and how she worked to make it as a writer in LA, more often failing (and flailing) than succeeding. Morris's voice is engaging and funny, and while there are moments of gravity throughout the text, the overall message is full of love and delight. And this book's recipes also add to the story and are things you'd actually enjoy eating, rooted as they are in specific moments of time in Morris's life.
Finally, Lauren Shockey's Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris was one book that is the exception that proves the rule about the cooking memoirs I'm most interested in looking at. Originally, I grabbed the book because it looked interesting, but I didn't think it would match what I've been examining in other cooking memoirs, memoirs that often start out as blogs written by women who are not trained chefs but who link their memories to the food they ate or cooked. These memoirs invite their reader to eat with them, to share their table and their memories. Shockey's book starts off a little gimicky--she wants to learn about food, so she takes a year to cook in four professional kitchens around the world. Unlike the other texts, there is no love interest; however, like the other memoirs, there is a yearning to connect with food and feed people. Shockey may be trained as a chef, but her heart is not in professional cooking. Instead, it's in the food she makes at home for other people, the joy of sharing a table with friends and family. The recipes she shares are mostly disconnected from the restaurants that she inhabits for the year, though she does translate professional cooking in an accessible way for the reader, making her book in line with the other cooking memoirs I have been reading. Shockey's book, while not as well written as the other two, was an enjoyable read, and allowed me to journey with her as she explored the wide world of food in Vietnam, Israel, France, and New York. It was culinary tourism from my couch, and her recipes enable me to perhaps replicate the food experiences she had as she traveled from place to place, meeting incredible people and eating amazing food.
I have many, many more books to explore, but I wanted to share the books I've been reading (and very much enjoying) if you're also interested in these kinds of memoirs. It turns out there's a pretty significant market for them, and, like these writers, I hope to transform my interests in food and writing into my research and work.