This post was sparked by the closing pages of Down and Out in Paris in London (George Orwell). Now why on earth hadn’t I read that before? It’s awesome – for anyone who has either worked in hospitality (especially hotels) or spent some time in London or Paris it’s a must-read! Often when I finish a great book that really resounded, I consider when last I read something as good, in a subject which really interests me, and I’ve come up with the following list, in no particular order of preference…
Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel) Read this when I was 14, I have no idea how this got into a rural South African town library. I don’t think anyone else in town read it – the cover was quite…loud. There’s romance, tragedy, Mexican history, culture and food plays a pivotal role. This was the book that started it all I’d say.
Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain) Been there, done that, I know. However I started my culinary training the year this book was published and food media took off on a crazy trajectory. Imagine being in the midst of it all – and yet still having to work in the industry? Bourdain made my future career suddenly look way cooler than all my mates at Uni.
The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America (Michael Rhulman) This was it! I had found my calling! Never had anything grabbed my attention more than what Rhulman wrote about what really being a chef was like. All his other books are in the same category.
The Belly of Paris (Emile Zola) Another ‘why haven’t I read this yet?’ book. It’s about Paris. It’s about food. A classic as vivid as a beautiful oil painting, set in the 1800’s, around Les Halles market. I want to be there…
The Man Who Ate Everything (Jeffrey Steingarten) One of the most entertaining collections of food essays written. Formerly food editor of USA Vogue, his writing is brilliant, about nearly (and randomly) everything food, and it’s hard to stop reading once you’re into it.
The Art of Eating (MFK Fisher) This woman is just awesome. They don’t make food writing like this no more. I wish I knew her! She just ‘got’ it.
Salt and Cod (Mark Kurlansky) Yes those are the titles of entire books dedicated to the topic. And how! Anything Kurlansky writes fascinates to the last page. Anyone who can achieve this writing about salt, or cod (and a lot more) is obviously genius.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (Isabel Allende) Allende’s fantastical take on the foods that pique the senses, a listing of aphrodisiacs from the daily to the strange… One of the few books here that contain recipes…but they are recipes that’ll inspire you beyond cooking, if you know what I mean…
The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine (Rudolph Chelminski) The gripping and terribly sad story of chef Bernard Loiseau, who lived by the Michelin stars, and it seems, died by them. A not unfamiliar story of the obsession and perfectionism continuously shaping the world of haute cuisine.
The Decadent Cookbook: Recipes of Obsession and Excess (Lucan & Gray) This is the naughty one. Found this in a dark London bookstore, have never seen it anywhere since. Considering what’s inside I reckon its offensive to about 80% of the general reading populace out there. Anyway, if your tastes, like mine, include Gautier, what the Marquis de Sade had to say, and the menu’s and antics of the most debauched Roman Emperors, you’ll spend a sleepless night or two feverishly relishing this prose.
Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Simon Hopkinson) A great book of inspiration to return to again and again. Hopkinson’s food really appeals to me, and his writing more so. One of my most treasured books of his is the inimitable The Prawn Cocktail Years. Awesome.
Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the first celebrity chef (Ian Kelly) Today’s celebrity chefs aren’t a patch on the life(style) Careme had going. The man must have been a superhero, and worked himself to an early death. However the lavish banquets, and especially the intricate centerpiece desserts he created at the end of the 1700’s, will never see the light of day again.
I am sure I’m forgetting some, any suggestions?