One of my 2019 goals is to REFINE…meaning to perfect, to improve by polishing or practicing. When it comes to reading and my reading life, I reluctantly admit that I’m typically a seldom, yet random, binge reader and usually with fast reads such as Hunger Games, Twilight (!!), etc and usually only when I’m on a beach. As a child, I used to be a voracious reader — reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. But as life happened and time-suck inventions like social media and Netflix came about, sitting down to read a book has become less and less of a priority for me. Until now…
This year, I have committed to growing and nourishing my practice of reading, for enjoyment, yes, but also to expand my knowledge and vocabulary around things that interest me.
As you can see from this blog, my Instagram or any time there’s a plate in front of me…food is DEFINITELY a priority and a passion. So it might come as no surprise that my first set of book reviews for the year are in the food genre. I’m hoping to post a review of 2-3 books each month (probably NOT all food-related, but maybe), so we will see how this goes. <3
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
by Samin Nosrat
I pre-ordered this book on my Kindle back in 2017, but truth be told, I NEED the printed version ASAP because this piece of work is and will forever be part of my cooking repertoire. A textbook for life in the kitchen, really. It is one of the most beautifully written books, and the way that Nosrat describes cooking through her simplistic, yet overwhelmingly gorgeous depiction of the most basic elements of cooking is nothing more than pure GENIUS.
The connecting thread through the entire book is one of heart and of the ultimate JOY that comes from not only eating amazing food, but also from understanding it and taking the time to know and respect the craft of cooking.
“Whether you’ve never picked up a knife or you’re an accomplished chef, there are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt…fat…acid…heat…As you discover these secrets, you’ll find yourself improvising more and more in the kitchen. Liberated from recipes and precise shopping lists, you’ll feel comfortable buying what looks best…confident in your ability to transform it in to a balanced meal.”
This book has forever changed the way I think about cooking and eating…finding my way around the kitchen differently, more comfortably than ever before. I do, in fact, feel more liberated.
From her lesson on effectively layering with salt to the different ways fat is used a cooking medium to the beautiful illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton (that I would like to frame around my kitchen) to the many, many keepsake recipes included throughout, this book will forever hold a place in my heart and in my kitchen that I will most definitely revisit, time and time again.
If you like to cook at all or want to learn, this book is the perfect place to start. You can’t help but feel the love and joy that emanates from it’s pages. And yes for those visual learners, there’s a wildly popular Netflix edition of this, so go check that out as well. I may or may not have started weeping in the first episode when that sweet Italian lady made handmade pesto…and have since wept through every single episode…it’s THAT beautiful.
Freckled Fork Rating: 4 of 4
by Jessica Tom
You may be thinking…wait, what? To go from such a lovely book above to this…I must have lost my damn mind…but I JUST got back into reading for fun, and this book sounded fun to me and it was JUST. THAT. Give me a break.
The story follows a recent Yale graduate student, Tia Monroe, who travels to New York City (thus another reason this book piqued my interest…I heart all things NY) to become an intern with a former NY Times cookbook author through a program at Columbia University. Instead, she is duped and placed as a coat check at a restaurant, which turns out to be a ruse orchestrated by Michael Saltz, the (fictitious) highly feared NY Times food critic (sounding eerily similar to a Pete Wells-type). Saltz uses Monroe to ghostwrite his reviews when he discovers he’s lost his sense of taste (can you imagine?!). I won’t go too much more into detail because it is a good, quick and entertaining read, and I don’t want to give away the story.
What really drew me into this book was not the salaciousness of the NYC food scene storyline (which was pretty good, btw) but the way Monroe talked about and described the food she was eating and experiencing at these highly reputable New York establishments.
I KNOW that’s one area in my own life — especially when it comes to cooking and food — that I want to grow and expand. I want to be better equipped with an expanded vocabulary beyond my typical “awesome”, “amazing”, “incredible” and “delicious” when it comes to describing food, or really anything.
So, yes, this book was definitely entertaining, but more so, it gave an interesting glimpse into the lives of those who critique and write about food. So there.
Freckled Fork Rating: 2 of 4
Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
by Michael Gibney
After the lightheartedness and enterntainment of Food Whore, I jumped into Gibney’s account of 24 hours in the fast-paced balls-to-the-wall chaotic, but beautiful, world in the kitchen of a NYC fine dining restaurant. Right from the beginning, Gibney starts by inviting you in to what feels like a very personal, special insiders peek into the close-knit, seemingly elusive members-only club that is the industry kitchen.
He takes time to intricately describe every single movement, thought, interaction and moment that comes about for the every important Number 2 to a top-ranked Chef. Every piece of the puzzle is essential and plays a key part in the culinary choreography of a restaurant kitchen. The people are just as important as the cookware as is the cleanliness of the setup as is the flow of order as is the relationships between the Front of House and the Kitchen, etc., etc. Just like the human body, every part has a very specific role, purpose and part to play in order for everything to work as it should…bringing you to the end result of ultimate success in Gibney’s eyes…Service (performance of work for another) + Alimentation (provision of nourishment) + Soigné (the French word for “to take care of”, to look after and to love).
The process of creating beautifully complex, creative and perfectly made food, presented thoughtfully and purposefully on a plate for you — the consumer — to eat, enjoy and experience the way the Chef envisioned.
“We’re here to feed people…to take care of them. Cooking is altruism. It’s not about you. It never will be. It’s only about what you do for others. There’s honor in that.”
There were so many parts of the book where I felt like I was truly a fly-on-the-wall or even better (in my perfect world), a culinary student told to sit quietly in the corner and just watch, learn and take it all in. I felt like I should highlight and write down every cooking term and culinary vocabulary word sprinkled throughout the book to keep as a reference.
There is so much beauty in Gibney’s in-depth depiction of the entire day beginning with planning the specials, checking the kitchen stations, to the human aspect of checking in with each cook, to the minutia of the dinner prep, to the kitchen politics when things get heated during the thick of service, to jumping on the line when someone can’t hack it, to ultimately doing what needs to be done in order to achieve that excellence for which they strive for every day, for every meal served.
I loved every minute of this book. It gave me a greater appreciation for the incredible work that goes into delivering what I now understand to be so much more than just a pretty plate of food.
I am especially grateful for the ones who truly amaze you with the works of art they create on the plate, for the spaces and places where it all seems to work together so harmoniously, for those who make it look so effortless.
I suppose for some, for those who have committed their heart, soul, sweat and tears to this work, the ultimate goal is for it to be just that…effortless. Not because of complacency or lack of skill, but because it’s in their bones. It’s so ingrained into who they are, they can’t help but to deliver a meal so distinctive, so warm and so welcoming that you keep coming back for more because you KNOW you are experiencing and witnessing, firsthand, a purpose being fulfilled.
We are lucky to have a number of Chefs here in Charlotte who I think fall into this group. They were meant to do this work, and I’m so grateful that they do and that I get to enjoy it with a front row seat, usually at the bar.
Freckled Fork Rating: 4 of 4, no doubt.
What book(s) did you get into this month?
I’d love to know, share in the comments! Anything I should add to my list for February?