Five Favourite Food Writers

29 Jul

I love books, and I love cooking. Ergo, I have collected hundreds, if not thousands, of cookbooks over the years. I have some books in multiple copies, just in case I have the urge to share (one of the things about book lovers is that we give our books away to like minded souls) or the pages get so cooked upon they are no longer legible! I love them all, and I gain inspiration from every different kind of cookbook. I am catholic in my tastes when it comes to food writing. I dont limit myself to vegetarian writers, though I obviously gravitate to writers who think about vegetarian cooking in a new and different way. I am inspired by all sorts of cooking, and I read not just for recipes and ingredients, but also to look at technique and the way people think about and write about food.

I was asked in a previous post to list some of my favourite cookbooks. I decided to list some of my favourite food writers, because if they are amongst my favourites, all their books are on my Must Have list! These writers also produce wonderful recipes, but they also inspire just by how they express their own fascination with food. I love people who write passionately about food, who bring the personal into their stories and recipes. I enjoy being brought into their world, their minds, their lives. Do try and read some of these writers – just for their passion and joy.

And please note, I have many more favourites than just these five (Julia Child, Elizabeth Luard, Calvin Trillian, Alice Waters …. oh and more and more and more, come to mind!) … but these are some of my current inspirations, as well as constant companions from when I first started to read cookbooks, and food writing, for sheer pleasure. Enjoy!

Home CookingLaurie Colwin

Colwin is probably one of my favourite authors, period. She wrote for Gourmet magazine many years ago, and I never missed a column. In a magazine that could sometimes be daunting for its slightly high-brow approach to food, Colwin’s writing was approachable, intimate, friendly, funny and yet totally passionate about food. You could imagine having coffee with her, and chatting about the perfect recipe for a birthday cake that would appeal to a 10 year old… a meandering comfortable conversation that could only happen between old friends. Colwin passed away in 1992, at the age of 48, from an unexpected heart attack. When I read about her death in Gourmet, I grieved as if I had lost a close personal friend. I was heartbroken, and I still feel a bittersweet sadness when I read her now, knowing that she is no longer amongst us, cooking, chatting, dreaming, writing. Thats how true and real, pure and strong her voice was.

She is also laugh out loud funny, and clear in her opinions and likes and dislikes about food. As a young woman, reading her books, I was inspired. She presented herself, complications, contradictions, passions and all – and you just wanted more. How can you not adore someone who calls a steamed chocolate pudding sincere?

Her two food books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (which was published posthumously) are the food books which I give to friends who arent interested in food. The humour and love with which she writes about food, home life, family, are inspiring and beautiful. Her descriptions of cooking and eating and her recipes are immediate and accessible. I love these two books, and wouldnt be without them. If you have not read Laurie Colwin’s writing yet, I envy you for the immense joy of discovery when you do. You will feel like you have gained a lifelong friend. If you only choose one author from this list, choose her.

“The smell of chocolate bubbling over and slightly burning is one of the most beautiful smells in the world. It is subtle and comforting and it is rich. One tiny drop perfumes a room like nothing else.” (from Home Cooking)

AppetiteNigel Slater

Way beyond and before Nigella, there was and is Nigel Slater. He writes about food as one would write about a lover. He immerses himself in flavour, texture, taste, smell. You can feel him want to rub his cheek against the perfect roundness of an egg, squish his fingers in a wobbling custard. He is a sensualist, and I adore reading his books. They are the perfect foodie present – inspirational, contextual, honest and real. No sous vide or fancy foams for Nigel. He waxes poetic on the perfect roast potato, and makes you want to go out and cook one now. He writes about everything with such relish, such passion, such earthy sexiness.

His website gives you an indication of how he presents food and himself, but really, reading his books, in particular Tender (about his vegetable and fruit garden – 5 years in the writing, 500 recipes), Real Cooking, Real Food, Appetite, and The Kitchen Diaries, will be an eye-opening and bountiful journey into the mind of a true cook. I also love his raw, vulnerable, beautiful memoir, Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.

For food writing that is different from just about anything out there – full of joy and hunger, ravishing and delightful, Slater’s your man.

“Joan’s lemon meringue pie was one of the most glorious things I had ever put in my mouth: warm, painfully sharp lemon filling, the most airy pastry imaginable (she used cold lard in place of some of the butter) and a billowing hat of thick, teeth judderingly sweet meringue. She squeezed the juice of five lemons into the filling, enough to make you close one eye and shudder.” (from Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger)

The Art of EatingM. F. K. Fisher

I consider Fisher to be the Goddess Mother of food writing. She published over 30 books in her lifetime, and wrote about food in the broadest sense: recipes, history, gastronomy, philosophy, culture, and natural history. She loved food, and she had an amazing ability to bring the reader into her fascinations – from oysters to old recipes, from Dijon to California. She wrote about the pleasures of the table with simplicity, humour and a keen intelligence. You cannot help but learn when you read her books – about the science of food preparation, the history of a place or an ingredient, or the economies of scale of consumption. MFK Fisher is also a pleasure to read because she wrote from the mid 1930s to her death in the mid 1990s, so her focus was food in its natural state. Her writings on how to economise, at the start of World War 2, are a fascinating glimpse of a particular time and space.

My favourite MFK Fisher book is The Art of Eating, which brings together Serve It Forth, Consider The Oyster, How To Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets, considered her most popular and important books. I also love Recipes: The Cooking of Provincial France, With Bold Knife and Fork, Among Friends, and A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man or Beast. Considering that many of her writings were first published over 50 years ago, they are totally contemporary, deeply engaging and wonderfully intimate.

If you havent read MFK Fisher, you havent read food writing. She set the bar for true immersion in food, and her voice was bold, strong and resoundingly passionate.

“E is for Exquisite… and its gastronomical connotations, at least for me. When I hear of a gourmet with exquisite taste I assume, perhaps too hastily and perhaps very wrongly, that there is something exaggeratedly elaborate, and even languidly perverted, about his gourmandism. I do not think simply of an exquisitely laid table and an exquisite meal. Instead I see his silver carved in subtly erotic patterns, and his courses following one upon another in a cabalistic design, half pain, half pleasure…” (from An Alphabet for Gourmets)

French Laundry CookbookThomas Keller

Keller is, I think, one of the high priests of incredibly beautiful, elaborate haute cuisine. His food is astonishing, complex, witty and cerebral. His French Laundry restaurant, in Yountville, California, is legendary, and it is one of my life goals (honestly) to eat there, or at Per Se, his New York restaurant. He is an icon of modern food – the successor to Alice Waters, the founder of the California cuisine movement with its focus on organic, locally produced food. Keller took that one step further and added a particular magic – from sous vide to foams to complex, time consuming chemical processes – his food is constantly challenging how you think about eating.

I love his books, particularly The French Laundry Cookbook and Ad Hoc at Home. The first book is a must to understand the mind of the Chef – his philosophy, his painstaking approach, his creativity and his passion. There is no way in heaven or hell though that I would want to try and recreate what he cooks – its too complex for me, and too overwhelming. I love to look into the mind of someone as passionate and brilliant as he, but I wouldnt want to be him! However, Ad Hoc at Home is much more accessible because it was written specifically for the home cook, and while it shows all the Keller brilliance, and generously allows us to learn his tips and tricks and magic, its actually cookable with basic ingredients and equipment.

Keller seems to me an obsessive chronicler of his approach and his genius. Thats generosity – but its also confidence. For a look into the meticulous mind of an icon of food, these books are an important and inspiring education.

Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete with Tellicherry Pepper and Baby Mache. This is a very simple, elegant way to serve a familiar cheese and was, in fact, how I began to compose cheese courses. Not only did I want to compose a cheese course, but I also wanted to manipulate the cheese into an elegant form. Brie is creamy and cream whips – therefore, I figured, I could whip Brie, and it worked. Be sure to use a very good, ripe, creamy Brie in this dish. Whipping makes it light and luxurious, even surprising. You recognise the flavour of Brie, but here, because the cheese is light and airy, that flavour is pleasantly out of context and feels new, especially paired with the spicy pepper and delicate greens.” (from an introduction to a recipe, The French Laundry Cookbook)

Comfort Me With ApplesRuth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is the last editor in chief of the late, lamented, beloved Gourmet magazine. She is a critic, cook, author and gourmet of encyclopedic proportions. She is modern, feisty, adventurous, worldly and completely accommodating in her recipes and writing. She brought Gourmet into the larger sphere of multi-cultural influences, and made it much more open and accessible. Her attention to detail, and her ability to describe lovingly every element of a meal scrupulously, makes her a cook’s writer.

Reichl has written cookbooks, including The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes and Gourmet Today: More than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen. The latter is an amazing book for vegetarians, as she has made a conscious effort to acknowledge vegetarianism as an important way of life. All the food in these books is easy to make, easy to understand, and delicious to eat. She has also published four very open and revealing memoirs: Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table,  Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, and Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. Each book is a revalation of a this woman’s complete commitment to her immersion in food, and a remarkable testament to a life well lived.

For a cook starting out, who is unsure of technique and approach, who wants modernism and creativity, but also recipes that are easy to understand and accessible, Reichl’s cookbooks are a must.

“Amora brought long baguettes to dip into the garlic mayonnaise, which was soft, airy, rich, delicious. Eating that aioli was like biting into savoury clouds. As we ate, Robert told stories of his native Provence, where women sit in the sun with mortars squeezed between their fat thighs, furiously pounding garlic into aioli. As I listened my eyes grew heavy and I began to sink into an odd, sleepy euphoria.” (from Comfort Me with Apples)

2 Responses to “Five Favourite Food Writers”

  1. Afizah July 30, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    Pia, you have this uncanny ability to make me jump out of my chair and follow whatever it is you’ve recommended, immediately!

    I just wanted to say I have very much enjoyed today’s post and will be having a look for Laurie Colwin’s books on Amazon/Alibris right after this note…

    Totally agree with you on MFK Fisher, Slater and Keller, though have only read Ruth Reichl’s pieces in Gourmet. My own favourites must include Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden (have you read her lesser known Book of Jewish Food?), Marcella Hazan and my current pet, David Chang’s Momofuku. I never expected a Korean American chef to be so funny and self-deprecatingly hip – can’t believe I haven’t made it any of his restaurants yet!

    • delectableblog July 30, 2010 at 9:42 am #

      LOL Afizah, I think you will LOVE Laurie Colwin if you like Grigson, Elizabeth David, et al. And yes, I agree with you on them … I would have written about them – I had a master list of 20 – but I got tired and had to edit down! Also, Elisabeth Luard, Ferran Adria (amazing books), Jane + Michael Stern, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Molly Katzen, Anna Del Conte, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers … I could go on and on… Its so hard to choose!!! I will definitely get Momofuku … been wanting to read that for a while 🙂 Havent yet 🙂

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