mini-reviews: celebrity food memoirs

Food is one of my favorite things on earth—I love eating, cooking, trying new cuisines and restaurants, and learning about other cultures through food. Aside from experiencing my own culinary adventures, I usually can’t resist a good Michael Pollan book or memoir by a celebrated chef. Last year, I read to two such books by famous personalities in food and cooking:

I’ve been a fan of Padma Lakshmi from her hosting gig on Top Chef for years. She’s poised but has a sense of humor and shows knowledge of food as a judge. I also have one of her cookbooks, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet. I listened to her recent memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate on audiobook (read by Lakshmi). I really liked the parts about her childhood between India and the United States, as well as her career trajectory from model to TV show host to author. She also talks at length about having endometriosis, her romantic relationships, and becoming a parent. At times she is too self-pitying for her level of wealth and fame, but overall this is an enjoyable, light celebrity memoir. [Listened to audiobook in May 2016.]

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson has been on my radar for a few years now. Samuelsson has a fascinating background, starting with overcoming tuberculosis as a child Ethiopia and adopted in Sweden. I enjoyed learning about his upbringing, and how his race, heritage, and family shaped his love for food and development as a chef. However… I didn’t connect with Samuelsson on a personal level at all. I understand that you have to have a certain degree of self-centeredness, arrogance, and uber-confidence one has to have to succeed on the world stage (whether it’s as a renowned chef, famous musician, or whatever), but his relationships (as an adult) with his adoptive family and daughter—while I can appreciate his honesty and recognize that no one is perfect—are rather off-putting. It was a decent book, though, if you’re interested in celebrity chef memoirs. [Listened to audiobook in September 2016.]

kitchen confidential (audio)

On the drive up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving, my husband and I listened to Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, read by the author. Edited 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.

Bourdain gives away secrets of the trade in his wickedly funny, inspiring memoir/expose. Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls “twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine.”

I had already read this on paperback in 2012 and loved it. Nick has been a fan of Bourdain’s tv shows, so I thought this would be something great for both of us. And it was! Even better on audio than on paper, as expected when read by Bourdain himself. Here’s some of my review from 2012, which I still feel about the book:

Part memoir, part exposé, part editorial, Kitchen Confidential was totally engrossing for me. Bourdain brazenly describes his inflated self-confidence and youthful pride, while admirably owning up to mistakes, failures, and shameful moments in his career. He gives credit where it is deserved and shows honest appreciation for hard work, dedication, and tenacity in the kitchen. Bourdain knows he is not a perfect chef—or human being, for that matter. I like how Bourdain did not gussy up his writing with too-unusual terms or flowery language. He rhapsodizes about food, of course, but in a genuine, down-to-earth way. After all the descriptions of how nasty, chaotic, and vulgar restaurant employees and kitchens are (in Bourdain’s experience), I really loved the chapter about Scott Bryan and his kitchen.

A section that really stood out this time around for me on audio was the “day in the life of a chef” chapter—just the relentless pace and stress of it was mind-boggling. I wasn’t quite as shocked by the behind-the-scenes kitchen reveals, but the tips for restaurant dining (don’t order fish specials on Mondays, etc.) were interesting… I wonder how many still hold up today, 15 years after the book’s original publication.

Kitchen Confidential is not PC—plenty of vulgar language and stupid behavior—and a seriously entertaining read. I still haven’t gotten around to any of his other, newer books; I better get on that!

Listened to audiobook from November 22 to 25, 2015.

smitten kitchen + true food cookbooks

I have been following the smitten kitchen blog for years and have made several of Deb Perelman’s recipes, a few of which have become staples in our house—mushroom bourguignon, roast chicken with dijon sauce, lemony zucchini goat cheese pizza—and I can’t wait to dig in to even more here in the smitten kitchen cookbook, just released this week. It is about two-thirds savory, one-third sweets, and all of it looks absolutely delicious. Perelman has a warmth and familiarity in her communication, and a way of making you feel welcome in her world, as though you are another close friend. The full-color photos are gorgeous, and the layout of sections is cohesive. Her recipes are clear and surprisingly unfussy (considering she defines herself as being obsessive!). Well, Perelman has gone through all the fussy testing for her readers, so they may make these recipes with less hassle. However, most of the recipes are not for total beginners, and many take some time (but not too much time). Every one I have made so far have been totally worth it, though!

Also in the mail this week I received True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by the owners/chef of True Food Kitchen restaurants in California, Arizona, and Colorado—Dr. Andrew Weil, Sam Fox, and Michael Stebner. I won this book as a free giveaway from Goodreads.com’s First Reads. I haven’t had a chance to make any of the recipes yet, but they all look very tasty, healthy, and relatively easy to make (thanks to easy-to-understand instructions). True Food‘s aim is for healthy lifestyles, and includes information about gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, vegan, and other unconventional diets that are coming to the forefront in the food industry lately. There are also great sections in the back with from-scratch recipes for things like teriyaki sauce, wok aromatics, etc. that you would probably normally buy in a jar. In my first impression, it looks like some ingredients called for in True Food you’d have to hunt down at specialty stores (miso and natural yeast flakes, for example), making those particular recipes a little tougher to pull off for a normal weeknight dinner. Also throughout the book you’ll find personal anecdotes from the three authors and tips for a healthier lifestyle through food. Not to mention, the photos and layout are beautiful as well!