Nonfiction November Week 3: Be/Ask/Become The Expert: Foodoir and Food Writing

Week 3 here we go! This week our host is Veronica @ The Thousand Book Project and here’s our topic:

Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be The Expert/ Ask the Expert/ Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

As always I combine all three. For the past couple of years, I keep promising myself I’ll read more foodie memoirs and then not doing it. The issue seems to be that the ones I pick up aren’t really what I like in this category and then I’m put off.

I love a good foodoir (no, I can’t take credit for that fantastic term!) that tells a meaningful story of the writer’s life through food, or how cooking changed or healed them. The food element doesn’t have to be highbrow, I kind of prefer otherwise; I loved Nigel Slater’s Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, for instance, and its focus on very working-class British meals and junk foods.

I’m always searching for another foodoir that’s like Laurie Colwin’s sublime Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, which managed that magical chocolate-peanut butter combination of being funny, relatable, heartfelt, and poignant. The fact that I managed to get so many now go-to recipes from them has been a delightful bonus. I know there’s no other like Laurie Colwin, but I want to find more that might be similar.

Elizabeth David’s name inevitably comes up in this category. I have a few of her books I haven’t gotten to and have read Summer Cooking but her style feels chilly and removed to me, without the kind of warmth and personality that characterizes Colwin’s, and not as much narrative structure.

I didn’t really like the twee-ness of Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken and although tempting recipes are a big bonus, I want books that swing more heavily towards memoir than towards cookbook, which that one did.

Others that have really worked for me are Ann Hood’s Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food, Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table and Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, and Julia Child’s My Life in France (I don’t want to read Julie and Julia, I can tell I won’t get on with the author. Yes, I know I’m being really difficult and picky in my requests, but this is why I have issues in this genre).

The most recent one I’ve loved is Alexander Lobrano’s My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris, which hit a lot of points I love in a good foodoir: serious topics that the author is processing (his sexuality, an incident of childhood abuse) along with an immersion in a culture that’s new to them, and discovering that something around food or the food business is what they’re most passionate about.

If it has a targeted historical element or researched topic in addition to author experience, I’m also in. I loved The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat, The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket, and Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, which weren’t so much memoir as well researched narrative looks at our relationship to various foods, supply chains, and cooking techniques.

One such with a stronger memoir perspective I really enjoyed was Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, exploring his family’s history and genetics in Africa and the American South and his own experience as a chef and historical interpreter.

Some other favorites:

Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table, by Boris Fishman

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

The Tummy Trilogy (American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings) by Calvin Trillin

The Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites, by Dawn Drzal

The Language of Baklava and Life Without a Recipe, by Diana Abu-Jaber

Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France, by Craig Carlson

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious–And Perplexing–City, by David Lebovitz

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, by Anya von Bremzen

Some that are on my list are Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant, an essay collection by various writers on eating alone, chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef, and The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite by Laura Freeman, which I think may end up being more literary than foodie but takes the compelling angle of healing the pain of an eating disorder through reading.

What foodoirs, food histories, or exceptional food writing you can recommend?

Don’t forget to link up with Veronica this week with your Expert posts!

40 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 3: Be/Ask/Become The Expert: Foodoir and Food Writing

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  1. This is a really great list! I always think that I don’t like to read food memoirs, I’m not a cook by any means. But then I think about the food memoirs I *have* read and I always really enjoy them! My Life in France is iconic! One that I really enjoyed semi-recently is Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammadi.

    Every year Save Me The Plums comes up in Nonfiction November and every year I think about reading it and don’t. I’m officially adding it to my list this year! Also, The Cooking Gene.

    Maybe in 2022, I’ll become a foodoir connoisseur!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s such a tricky genre because I feel like the ones I enjoy, I REALLY enjoy but the ones that I don’t like feel REALLY bad. Like for years I refused to read My Life in France and when I finally read it I wish I’d had it in my life much sooner!

      Save Me the Plums was also like that for me, I just wasn’t that interested in someone’s magazine experience, but it was SO good.

      I started reading food memoirs around the time I was learning to cook and they were surprisingly helpful. Seeing how other people messed up terribly (Laurie Colwin’s first book is like that) was really reassuring 😂 I wholeheartedly support your foodoir connoisseur journey!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my favorite sub-genres, but there are many that you have mentioned that I have yet to read! Here are a few of my recommendations for you:

    A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (currently reading and loving it!)
    Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
    The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn
    On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh these all sound so good, thank you!! I hadn’t heard of any aside from On Rue Tatin – I have an ebook copy of that one kicking around somewhere that you reminded me of! I need to bump it up the list. Thanks so much for these suggestions, happy I could give you some too! 🙂

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  3. Love this post. I love reading about food–not necessarily cookbooks, but memoirs. I adore My Life in France (and agree about Julie and Julia) and reread just before a trip to France and made a point of eating at the restaurant in Rouen where she had her eating epiphany. I also love Save Me the Plums and My Place at the Table.

    You have so many great recommendations–definitely bookmarking this post for reference as I build my reading lists.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like the idea of foodoirs, but I would be picky too. I don’t want anything too smug, too privileged, too pretentious, too name-dropping – hmmm. I like your description of “that tells a meaningful story of the writer’s life through food, or how cooking changed or healed them”. I have read one of Ruth Reichls and I did enjoy that. Mostly though, I’m more likely to watch food shows (but not all those reality shows, with the exception of our Aussie MasterChef which focuses on food and people over competition.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I have *exactly* the same qualms with them! As much as I love the right book in this genre there are just so many ways for them to go wrong and unfortunately lots do. I haven’t gotten as into food shows, but I guess I’ve only seen the competitive ones we have in the US and they seem more stressful and sometimes sad than anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have a LOT of food shows, but I only watch occasionally. I best like the ones that travel around and look at scenery, food and culture (Rick Stein does these, but we are getting repeats of his at the moment), or those that are in the kitchen but share different culture’s cooking perhaps with guests.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That sounds a bit like what I’ve seen of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, I like that format too. They have something like that I’ve noticed on German TV as well, basically chefs from other countries showing German cooks how to make popular dishes and explaining the cultural significance. What I’ve seen of those segments are really wonderful!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The first time I lived in the USA – in the early 1980s – I used to watch a cooking show, that I found very engaging, but of course American cooking was exotic to me. Hmm, it was Jeff Smith and I see from Wikipedia that he may not have been the man he seemed. I have one of his books!

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  5. What an amazing selection! I’m not much of a cook, so I don’t find books about cooking per se all that appealing. But The Secret History of Food and the Secret Life of Groceries both look intriguing. Thanks for these recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This isn’t a genre that appeals to me I must admit. I’m a decent cook, and I quite enjoy it, but I cook for a large family on a tight budget so I never really find the recipes relevant which puts me off. That being said, I would read something like The History of Food or The Secret Life of Groceries.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve added the Michael Twitty to my wishlist! I’ve got David Chang’s Eat a Peach, Wai Chim’s The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling and Ben Ryder Howe’s My Korean Deli on there already, presuming they were recommendations from some blog or other – any thoughts on those?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t heard of any of those!! It looks the Good Dumpling one is a novel, but the other two memoirs sound fantastic. Especially My Korean Deli, I really want to read that one, and looks like it got a glowing NYT Books review too. Thanks for those recommendations!!! And glad I could point you towards the Cooking Gene, it was great (and I make his black eyed pea hummus all the time, some wonderful recipes and spice mixes in that one too!)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I really need to move that one up the list!!

      I’ve actually read the Temporary Bride but I didn’t like it all that much…I thought that guy treated her badly and it just kind of makes me uncomfortable to read about. The premise was indeed really unusual and interesting but I remember feeling like the time was dragged out a bit unnecessarily. The food stories in that one were great though, and I didn’t know anything about Iranian food so it was really interesting for that!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My goodness. What an awesome list Rennie. I loved Tender at the Bone. Have not read others here or cooking memoirs in general. Never knew there were so many that would interest me. I do recommend, however, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Believe it or not, I’ve never read that one and it’s like the baseline in this genre! I’m not usually into the restaurant business ones but I’ve heard his is also about so much more. I’ve loved what episodes of his shows I’ve seen. I think I have an ebook copy of it kicking around somewhere, I really need to finally read it. I’m glad to hear it’s one that comes recommended by you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bourdain was obviously an interesting figure and a persistent rebel so I wasn’t surprised that he had many good stories to tell. What I didn’t expect, however, was the quality of his writing. He’s very good.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you reminded me of that one!!! I had heard about it years ago – I think I read an article about her – and didn’t note the title right away and forgot about it until now! I think David Lebovitz has referenced her efforts as well 🙂 Thank you so much for the reminder!!!

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  9. I love books about food. When I choose cook books I try to find books where there is a little bit of a story to the recipe. That’s why I love Nigella and Jamie Oliver.
    I don’t really have anything to recommend. But, many years ago, I read a book, a thriller, where the main character, Thomas Lieven, a gourmet, writes about food he is eating, even gracing us with a recipe here and there. It is called “Es muss nicht immer Kaviar sein” by Austrian author Johannes Mario Simmel. Translated in English as ‘It can’t always be caviar’. Such a pity, because caviar is highlighting any meal.

    It was even filmed and here is the plot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Es_muss_nicht_immer_Kaviar_sein_(TV_series)

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  10. I haven’t read many books in this category, but I should, because I enjoyed the ones I’ve gotten too! Both Save Me the Plums and The Secret Life of Groceries were good enough that they made me want to read more books like them. I also always like to do more than one part of this prompt 🙂

    Like

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