This spring I started noticing a trend in the new books coming out, and as the year went on I became convinced: 2019 is the year of great food writing. Not just memoirs--though we've had some remarkable ones this year (and more to come) --but also stories of food adventure, revolution, and restaurants.
Why are we seeing more food writing being published in one year than we have in the last couple years combined? I don't know exactly. But cooking shows and food blogs are everywhere. Celebrity chefs have become household names. Media exposure, social and otherwise, seems to have raised our culinary consciousness. I think we're living in a time when people are much more concerned about where our food comes from. What new creative dishes are people making? Who are these chefs? We want to know. There's a new generation of foodies out there who came of age with celebrity chefs and environmental consciousness. This isn't a millennial thing, but maybe the millennials have helped the rest of us reach critical mass. And publishers are giving the people what they want. Books about food and chefs. Bring it on.
I have a stack of books I'd love to write about on this topic, but I will keep it on the shorter side and just cover six in more detail and list the rest. Every one of these is a pleasure to read, and a book I highly recommend.
JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
If I had to describe Jean-Georges Vongerichten's memoir in one word, I would call it enchanting. In JGV Vongerichten (world famous chef and owner of three-and-four star restaurants around the world) tells readers the story of how he ended up on the unlikely path to restaurant stardom and shares the twelve recipes that have had the most impact on his life in some way. And even though you are reading, the experience feels more like you're sitting around a kitchen table with Vongerichten, as he imparts pearls of wisdom and makes you something delicious to eat. The recipes are the same way--Vongerichten tells you not only the what and the how, but his instructions are like he's standing at your elbow offering tips and pointing the way. A delightful chef memoir if ever there was one.
Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End by Kevin Alexander
Alexander is a James Beard award-winning journalist and he looks at the decade between 2006-2016 when there was a seismic shift in focus, away from places like New York and San Francisco, to chefs and eateries in Portland, Austin, and Nashville. Creativity was thriving and patrons were seeking out new restaurants in warehouse districts and places where rents were cheap and food was exciting. This was also a decade that launched Top Chef and new social media sites devoted to food and restaurants had every new opening covered within minutes--great when things were firing on time, disastrous when there were still kinks to be worked out. A fascinating chronicle of an important decade in food culture, especially for those who saw this first hand in their own city.
Food critic Jeff Gordinier had the adventure of a lifetime and we get to share that experience in his book, Hungry. A chance meeting ended up leading Gordinier on a globe-trotting search for new food and flavors with chef René Redzepi, whose restaurant Noma has been called one of the best in the world. Redzepi shocked the food world when he decided to close Noma in 2015 citing a need for inspiration and reinvention. He's that kind of guy--passionate to a point that might look a little insane to the rest of us. And Gordinier accompanied Redzepi on his quest, one that took them to places like Sydney and Mexico, where they explored lush markets, and encountered totally unfamiliar ingredients. An exciting culinary travelogue that brings exotic flavors and electric personalities to the page.
Oh, fast food...that much maligned bastion of American eats that sprang to life with the birth of car culture and embedded itself in cities and towns across the United States. Fast food often gets a bad rap, but the truth is Americans still harbor a (sometimes secret) love for it. Adam Chandler introduces us to the entrepreneurs, drop-outs, and dreamers who built empires out of nothing. He looks at the evolution of the industry’s business models and menu items, from healthier options embraced (or shunned) by consumers to what you’ll find at franchises around the globe. An incredibly fun and interesting read that will change the way you think about the fast-food industry.
Ah, the truffle. An ingredient that is sophistication itself and also incredibly fragile and wildly expensive. What had never occurred to me, until I read The Truffle Underground, is that this bulbous mushroom is also attractive to the criminal element. A true crime story that traces the path of these costly fungi from growth and harvest through the supply chain that brings it to the plate. The scarcity and expense, I knew about; the black market secrecy and devastating theft was eye-opening. Jacobs does a fantastic job of entertaining as he leads us in this wonderful exposé of an underground most of us never knew existed. I will never see truffles on a menu without thinking of this book, and I'm glad for that.
Ted Lee and Matt Lee, established food writers and cookbook authors, take readers behind the pipe and drape and into the fast-paced world of New York catering. The Lees became catering insiders, learning about the hacks chefs routinely use to produce high quality, specially crafted meals to hundreds (and even thousands) of diners without a restaurant kitchen. An incredibly entertaining read that lets us in on the magic behind the scenes, Hotbox does for catering what Kitchen Confidential did for restaurants.
Looking for more? You might also like:
Sign up for the Amazon Book Review: Best books of the month * author interviews * the reading life * and more