Sunday, January 08, 2006

Book Review: Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer

out of the kitchen
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

I liked Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer. Jeannette Ferrary is a good writer and she has lived an interesting life. She’s met so many people I’d love to meet (or have met, as the case may be: she opens the book with a story about the last time she saw Julia Child.) She tells her story elegantly and succinctly, with nice, short chapters: this is a woman who embraces brevity, and I love her for that.

But that’s it. I liked the book. I wish to God I could be more effusive in my praise – Ferrary seems like somebody I’d really like as a person. Really.


Unfortunately, as good a writer as Ferrary is, and as many interesting people as she’s met, her life merely ambles across the page. It doesn’t sprint, and it certainly doesn’t skip. Her adventures are not very, well, adventuresome.

I finished the book, and in only about two days, which usually means I absolutely love, love, loved it (as Eloise would say.) In this case, however, my finishing had more to do with her amazingly diminutive chapters and the fact that I’ve seen every Law & Order that’s been on lately.

But this is not entirely Jeanette Ferrary’s fault. Yes, she maybe could’ve imbued the story with a little more excitement. But, to be fair, I was holding her to a ridiculously high standard. And the fault for that lies squarely with Ruth Reichl.

I read the Ruth Reichl trilogy (Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples and Garlic and Sapphires) before I started this blog, so let me briefly summarize my reviews: I thought they were so amazing that they nearly made me faint. I finished each book in one sitting – no sleep for me before the final page. In fact, I read all three in two weeks, passing them on to my mother-in-law, who also devoured them.

In short: I love, love, loved them.

But back to Ferrary. It’s nearly impossible not to compare Ferrary to Reichl, at least just a little bit. They’re both food writers, about the same age, originally from New York. While still in school, they both endured a move to the suburbs (Ferrary to Stamford, CT and Reichl to Long Island), leaving behind the Big City, with all it’s character. After college, both moved to San Francisco where they took their turns dumpster-diving behind grocery stores, getting divorced, and having lunch in Marin with M.F.K. Fisher. Both eventually got that golden phone call from someone at the New York Times, and they both report on the moment somewhat breathlessly.

But that is where the similarities end. Unfortunately, Ferrary doesn’t tell her story with the same wry sense of humor, or the same urgency, as Reichl. Unlike my reading of Reichl, which a nuclear bomb might not have interrupted, while reading Out of the Kitchen, I could’ve set the book down at any given moment, never to pick it up again, and I wouldn’t have lost a moment’s sleep wondering what had happened to Ms. Jeannette Ferrary.

In fact, right now, I can’t exactly remember what does happen to her at the end. Which is not to say she’s not likeable: she is. And it’s not to say she’s not a good writer: next time I see her byline, I will be sure to read the article.

It’s just that she’s not…amazing. She’s not Ruth Reichl.

So there you have it: Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer – I liked it. Just.

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