Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Reichl: 7 food books to read this summer

Though Independence Day has passed, there’s still plenty of time to get your barbecue on this summer. With cookout season in full swing, it’s the perfect time to break out some food-related reading material, and fortunately, there are plenty of great new books on the menu. Below, EW presents a sample platter of brand-new options, several of which include recipes (in case you need some culinary inspiration). Hopefully you’ll walk away with an appetite for at least one of these tomes. Just don’t leave it too close to the grill.


Anyone who’s seen an episode of Parts Unknown knows what an adventure tracking down great food can be, but Jeff Gordinier knows it better than most. For four years, the food writer (and former EW staffer) traversed the globe with René Redzepi, head chef of Denmark’s Noma (voted the world’s best restaurant three years in a row), on a quest for new inspiration. How does one better the best restaurant in the world, you ask? Not even Redzepi, it seems, was sure. But the ever-restless chef strove to reinvent his cuisine and his restaurant, scouring Sydney, Mexico, and even the Arctic Circle for the right flavors. Gordinier chronicles this journey with the practiced pen of a veteran journalist (he describes Redzepi as “allergic to inertia”). And along the way, he chronicles his own internal journey (he set out with Redzepi while his marriage was on the brink of collapse), creating a portrait of two men in search of something missing.

Save Me the Plums

With Save Me the Plums, Ruth Reichl, another seasoned (sorry) culinary writer, at last relates her 10-year tenure as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. It’s a chronicle of end times: Publisher Condé Nast shuttered the hallowed, food-focused monthly in 2009, making Reichl its final editor. But it’s also a document of an exhilarating workplace, a portrait of an independent mind struggling to mesh with corporate culture, and a familiar tale of the struggle to maintain that elusive career-versus-family balance. Along the way, there are anecdotes (writers like David Foster Wallace pop up, and Reichl dishes on the many perks of a job with Condé Nast) and recipes (including a Thanksgiving turkey chili Reichl and her staff made for rescue workers at Ground Zero) aplenty. “Juicy” is a word deployed all too often to describe tell-all memoirs, but Save Me the Plums earns that adjective. (Just look at the title!)

Serious Eater

An oddly perfect companion piece to Save Me the PlumsSerious Eater chronicles Ed Levine’s own struggle to keep a food-writing platform afloat. In 2006, Levine (known already as an expert on New York’s food scene) launched Serious Eats, a blog for eating enthusiasts like himself to “proselytize about the food and the purveyors [they] felt so passionately about.” The site earned plenty of praise, but running it was, as Levine says, “a never-ending financial crisis.” With essentially no knowledge of how to run a web company, he simply held on as best he could through a rollercoaster of fundraising, recruiting, and attempting to lock down advertisers. Levine keeps up a brisk pace and confessional style through this rip-roaring tale, with Serious Eats contributors J. Kenji López-Alt and Stella Parks serving up recipes on the side. If it’s less nutritious than Save Me the Plums or Hungry, it’s no less filling.

Anthony Bourdain Remembered

When Anthony Bourdain died in June 2018, the world lost a titan of the culinary, television, and literary spheres (his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential remains essential reading), as well as a deeply curious man with an immense appetite for life and good food. In this posthumous publication, Bourdain’s fans offer their remembrances and appreciations, alongside heartfelt tributes by figures ranging from Eric Ripert to Barack Obama. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll almost certainly throw on an episode of Parts Unknown after reading…and end up binging a whole season.

Tiny Hot Dogs: A Memoir in Small Bites

How many culinary memoirs — heck, how many memoirs — frame their narrative through the lens of Steve Martin‘s The Jerk? If that weren’t enough, the rest of Tiny Hot Dogs proves celebrity caterer Mary Giuliani is truly one of a kind. The book follows Giuliani through her painfully awkward childhood, growing up Catholic in a “99 percent Jewish” neighborhood (Giuliani yearned so badly to be Jewish she attended a Hebrew school and memorized the entire haftorah voluntarily), her crushed dreams of becoming an actress (“The closest I ever got to stardom was hanging Lorne Michaels‘ coat”), and finally her pivot to and success in high-class catering, as well as her ongoing “love affair” with the hors d’oeuvre known as pigs in a blanket. Tiny Hot Dogs is infused with Giuliani’s quirky style and humor, as are the recipes peppered throughout, including one for “Mini Italian Challah Grilled Cheese” — “in which,” the author notes, “all my worlds collide.”

Notes From a Young Black Chef

Notes From a Young Black Chef might be the literary heir to Kitchen Confidential. In the spirit of Bourdain’s no-holds-barred culinary-lit classic, Kwame Onwuachi and co-author Joshua David Stein unspool the chef’s life story with the same mix of brutal honesty, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and atmosphere-conjuring prose. But Onwuachi’s story is completely his own. Just a taste of the Notes he offers: His mother sent him to Nigeria as a boy to “learn respect,” he sold candy on the subway and used the money to launch a catering company, he cooked on a Deepwater Horizon cleanup ship, he faced racism in top industry kitchens, he became a contestant on Top Chef. This book offers a gripping account of an already extraordinary life.

Drive-Thru Dreams

Craving a Big Mac after all that fine dining? Or better yet, want to know why you’re craving it? In Drive-Thru Dreams, Adam Chandler explores that most American of phenomena, fast food, delving into its long, winding history and its deep roots in American culture. Chandler traces fast food’s origins to the birth of White Castle in Wichita, tracks the rise of McDonald’s, KFC, and more, and compellingly argues that this un-haute cuisine is inextricably linked to American history. (Fun fact: It was Thomas Jefferson who brought French fries to the U.S.) Eminently readable, smart, and fascinating, Drive-Thru Dreams is, belying its subject matter, a full meal.

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