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Culinary Arts: A Guide to the Literature (April 2016): Food Writing & Memoirs

By Jeffrey P. Miller and Jonathan Deutsch

Food Writing & Memoirs

Food writing is a catch-all term, used across many disciplines, to describe writing that may be memoir, travel piece, or literary examination (to name the most common).  Food writing may have food at its core or present food as a major but not central player.  Among the fine examples of food writing is the annual collection Best Food Writing, a reader that is modest in cost and surveys the flavors of the year, so to speak.  Single-subject food books are now in vogue.  These tend to be slim, inexpensive volumes on a single food (tomatoes, chocolate), and they incorporate history, lore, and a few recipes.  The “Edible” series, edited by Andrew F. Smith, from Reaktion Books, is typical of the genre.  Though some titles in the series are lengthy, most are quick takes on a particular food.  For a deeper cultural perspective on any of the cuisines mentioned in this essay, readers may wish to investigate titles in the ABC-CLIO/Greenwood “Food Culture around the World” series.

Comprising a lively subgenre of culinary literature, culinary memoirs are rather new on the scene.  They are often written in a noir style, with drink, drugs, and depravity as central themes.  One of the first, and probably still the most widely read, of these was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.  Bourdain’s outré descriptions of life in the kitchen rang true for many professional cooks, and the book spawned a legion of followers.  Other memoirs useful to those interested in the culinary arts include Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, which provides a female view of the boys club atmosphere of most commercial kitchens; Matthew Evans’s Never Order Chicken on a Monday: Kitchen Chronicles of an Undercover Food Critic, which is similar in tone to Bourdain’s; and Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, which gives readers an insight into the rigors of formal culinary education at the CIA.

Today, the culinary arts are fully integrated into American life.  Most newspapers have a weekly food section, food television flourishes, restaurant critics are among the most widely read and respected of the professional critics in media, and Americans now spend more than 50 percent of their food dollar on items prepared primarily outside the home kitchen.  In other words, the culinary arts are firmly entrenched as a topic of interest to Americans and as a viable and sought-after career choice.  The literature on culinary arts has grown exponentially since the mid-twentieth century, and that growth will continue, particularly as Americans set their sights on healthier eating.

Works Cited