My Life in France by Julia Child
“This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in my life: my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating.”
So begins My Life in France, the memoir of Julia Child, one of Americas most revered cookery personalities and prolific advocate of butter. Child’s passion for cooking was not a natural occurrence but rather a skill and love borne inherently from a desire as a young bride to provide acceptable meals for her new husband who was far more culinary savvy than the young Julia. Child enrolled in a ‘Bride to Be’ cooking course in Los Angeles prior to her wedding, where she learned how to make pancakes among other things but it was a move to Paris for her husband’s career in 1948 that inspired a true culinary legend to be born. What followed was an intense love affair with France and French cuisine in particular, and the beginning of her writing career. My Life in France, written with her nephew Alex Prud’homme, is a sublime account of Julia’s transformation from culinary novice to world-renowned gourmande.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
“I’ll be right here. Until they drag me off the line. I’m not going anywhere. I hope. It’s been an adventure.”
Described by AA Gill as “Elizabeth David meets Quentin Tarantino”, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is a rollercoaster of a ride and as brutally honest as it gets. Sadly, Bourdain passed away in 2018 but his legacy lives on in this tell-all exposé of the restaurant industry in 1980s and 1990s New York. Bourdain’s personality jumps off the pages, making this an ironically bittersweet read.
Toast by Nigel Slater
“In Wolverhampton, Arctic Roll was considered something of a status symbol. It contained mysteries too. Why, for example, does the ice-cream not melt when the sponge defrosts?”
Nigel Slater is such a gifted writer and an extraordinary cook and his memoir Toast, published in 2003 was warmly received by critics. Toast is filled with anecdotes from Slater’s childhood, and soaked with food memories that resonate. A child’s view of his world, against the nostalgic backdrop of Bisto, tins of Campbell’s Meatballs and cheese and onion crisps.
Table Talk by AA Gill
“I was a friend, and if a friend can’t tell you that your food was a bilious slop which would be deemed an unnatural punishment in a Turkish jail, who can?”
While not quite a memoir, AA Gill’s Table Talk is perhaps my favourite book about food that doesn’t contain recipes. Table Talk is an anthology of well-formed opinion pieces, (everything from picnics to dinner parties) and snippets from his columns in The Sunday Times and Tatler. There are laugh-out-loud parts and of course, numerous references to ‘the Blonde’. It’s the perfect book to pick up and flick through should you have 20 minutes to yourself and need a dose of Gill’s famously caustic wit.
The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K Fisher
“Our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.”
Born in Michigan in 1908, MFK Fisher was the pre-eminent food writer of her day and all-round woman ahead of her time. Over her lifetime she wrote 27 books, including The Gastronomical Me which was first published in 1943 and updated in 2017. Throughout the book, Fisher chronicles a life in meals with a cast of eccentric characters and somewhat risqué (for the time) references that would make Nigella blush.
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