Sunday, December 29, 2013

5 must-read biographies about chefs/cooks

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.”
- W.C. Fields

Above image depicting appropriate use of a food group? Possibly not. But too funny not to use for this post.

'Food good' is my lifelong philosophy. Well, that and 'Chocolate good.' And probably 'Books good.' (I'm beginning to believe that there's a lot I find good, and that maybe I should amend my philosophy to 'Life? It is good' fullstop). My cooking is not that crash hot, to be honest. I bake better than I cook, but I'm amazingly lazy. I'd much rather buy a bag of chips (potato crisps) and eat those on bread than cook myself a proper sit down meal. It's less fuss. For a few years I happily lived on my own and would start out cooking actual dinners, and then somewhere along the line it got to be too much effort for one person, and so I stopped. And when mum and dad would make their monthly visits out to see me they'd poke their nose in my freezer, fridge and cupboards to make sure I was taking care of myself. And because I was living on tuna sandwiches or chip sandwiches (sometimes with marmite because OBVIOUSLY) everything was always full. Meaning that I looked like an actual adult who was capable of making adult-ish lifestyle decisions. It was around that time that I discovered how much I enjoyed cooking shows and books. More often than not it was because I loved the food and the locales (especially if the chefs were on location - combine food and travel and I'll happily watch it and be a fan for life) more than wanting to try to recreate any of the dishes myself. After that, it wasn't such a big leap to go from following food shows to reading biographies of those same people. And today's list is, really, nothing more than that - foodies, their lives, and the place of food in it. This list is quite selfish on my part, really: I heart food, and I heart people who make food. Now come live in my house and cook for me so I don't have to. (And on the days when you don't want to cook, I can still make a mean tuna sandwich, and I've perfected the best ratio of marmite to chip).

1. Under a mackerel sky: A memoir by Rick Stein
'All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from and to, and why' Stein's formative years in the 50s were shaped by the Oxfordshire farm he was brought up on and his family's much loved holiday home in Cornwall. But ever-present were the black moods of his bi-polar father who saw too much of himself in the young boy.

2. Mastering the art of Soviet cooking: A memoir of love and longing by Anya von Bremzen
With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR—a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning. Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy—and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa. When Anya was ten, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return. Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble kolbasa transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and Larisa, embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience—turning Larisa’s kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories.” Together, mother and daughter re-create meals both modest and sumptuous, featuring a decadent fish pie from the pages of Chekhov, chanakhi (Stalin’s favorite Georgian stew), blini, and more.

3.  Relish: My life in the kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe-- many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions.

4. Kitchen table memoirs: Shared stories from Australian writers edited by Nick Richardson
Here, for the first time, some of Australia's favourite writers and best-loved foodies share their very personal kitchen table memories, complete with gravy stains, bent forks and the odd tale of love and death. From Denise Scott's bittersweet recollection of chats around the table with her mother; to Martin Brown's tribute to the unique and forgotten sport of table climbing; to Helen Garner's quest to find the table that fitted her home and reflected her life - this charming anthology celebrates a beloved domestic touchstone where our lives, memories, stories and favourite recipes intersect. What's your favourite kitchen table memory?

5. Hungry : what eighty ravenous guys taught me about life, love, and the power of good food by Darlene Barnes
A humorous and revealing account from inside the ultimate boys' club as one female cook transforms the frat food experience and serves up generous helpings of honest advice and observations, finding herself transformed in the process.

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