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Sizzling Stories for Closet Chefs

By Melanie Moffett
In Bayou Pages
Jul 24th, 2015

reviews by Michael DeVault

Since humans first discovered fire cooked food, there have been stories about cooks. In Melville’s Moby-Dick, Fleece is taken to task for his kitchen skills. The classic Grapes of Wrath finds Ma frequently over a pot, preparing food with love. Non-fiction books aren’t immune to the primal draw of the kitchen, either. Frances Mayes famously chronicled her burgeoning love of cooking in Under the Tuscan Sun, and Elizabeth Gilbert turned a near-breakdown into an ode to food and spiritual discovery in Eat Pray Love. Visit a bookstore, and it can seem like there are as many foodie books as there are dishes to try. Browse a few titles, and it’s hard not to notice how quickly good foods ignite strong passions. These three best-selling food memoirs each track a different aspect of the foodie culture, as told through the eyes of their authors, each of whom is an amateur when they enter in the food world and who grow to adore food and discover the passion of life along the way.

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany
By Bill Buford

Born in Baton Rouge, raised in California, Bill Buford is a well-respected journalist and author. When he decided he wanted to learn to cook, Buford went about it the hard way—by signing on to be a “kitchen slave,” working for free prepping vegetables on the line of Babbo, the New York restaurant of the dementedly demanding Mario Batali. Recounting several years of his journey from green to gourmand, Buford details the hellish hours, stifling heat, and near-debilitating injuries that came with his drive to become a master chef. Working with Batali sets Buford on a path through Tuscany and France, where he spends weeks in the kitchens of the same chefs who shaped the career of one of the world’s greatest kitchen maestros.

At times brusque and at others endearing, Heat provides an inside look into the lives of those special people who dedicate their lives to perfecting a good marinara. With a journalist’s eye and a storyteller’s flair, Buford captures the chef’s journey and gives readers a peek inside his journey.

Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
By Phoebe Damrosch

If you’ve ever wondered what that waiter is thinking about the customer carping from that table in the corner, look no further than Phoebe Damrosch’s Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. The story begins when Damrosch takes a job at Per Se, the post-9/11 New York creation of French Laundry’s Thomas Keller. Suddenly thrust into a world where dinner for four routinely tops $20,000, Damrosch takes readers behind the scenes as she navigates the complex politics of a service comprise establishment. “Crumbers” work for a comfortable salary, while “captains”—those individuals who speak with the customers directly—earn salaries that sometimes rival Wall Street brokers. Damrosch not only provides a look behind the curtain, she also details the quest for the “best bone marrow in New York,” which she pairs with a series of perfect wines selected by her master-sommelier boyfriend Andre Mack.

In the world where all meals are sold Service Included, Damrosch must determine how far she’s willing to go to commit to life in the three-star restaurant, where the commitment demanded by Keller and crew is topped only by her own dogged pursuit of perfection.

The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand
By Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison is not a name often associated with gourmet meals, with readers instead familiar with his long string of critically acclaimed volumes of poetry and his novellas, such as Legends of the Fall and Revenge. Yet, within just a couple of pages of The Raw and the Cooked, readers begin to understand Jim Harrison, the man, as he prepares a gourmet burger fit for royalty…and proceeds to feed it to his ailing dog. At times brutally frank (there’s an extended discussion about how men should and should not behave during intercourse) and at others tender (the dog doesn’t do so well in the end), The Raw and the Cooked provides one of the most honest, transparent and ultimately heart-felt examinations of the life of a writer.

At his isolated home Livingston, MT, Harrison hosts some of the world’s preeminent literary, cultural and political minds. All the while plying them with the best wines, the best spirits and the best foods. By the end of this book, readers will know that it’s Harrison, and not his food, that’s The Raw and the Cooked.