Friday, September 30, 2005

My Food Story - Part IV: Learning to Read about Food

(This is the fourth installment in a five part series all about my history with food. The first three installments are here, here, and here.)

Just like my appreciation for food and cooking was gradual, so was my appreciation for food writing. It started innocently enough: I've always loved to read, and I love trying new genres. I didn't jump right into food writing, though. In fact, I might have shied away from it. Growing up, my mother got Bon Apetit. She has hundreds of issues. Occasionally, I'd glance at them, or at one of her many cookbooks, but they never really did much for me. Just lists of recipes. I couldn't relate.

Then, a few years ago, I started reading Peter Mayle's books about life in Provence. I didn't think of them as books about food, though. They were books about life (which, of course, all books about food are, but I didn't know that then.) Then The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin. A book by a chef, so clearly a book about food, but also a book about his life. The same with Anthony Bourdain and Kitchen Confidential. The incredible Ruth Reichl books. By the time I read Bill Bryson's Neither Here nor There and focused more on what he ate than the people he met, I knew I was reading differently. Of course, they were all just practice for the ever-quotable The Man Who Ate Everything. I've told more stories from that book in the past month than from any other book I've ever read.

And at the same time, I began reading cookbooks in earnest. When I first started cooking, I bought a couple of cookbooks - one by Nigella and one by Jamie Oliver - and read them cover to cover. Their books are so infused with personality - the same strong personalities that make them great TV chefs - that they were easy to read and made me feel as though I could cook. And that I wanted to be a part of their club of people who loved cooking. Now, with those under my belt, and my fabulously efficient system of recording recipes established, I read every cookbook I'm given (and that's quite a few). For Christmas last year, my mother gave me Julia Child's The Way to Cook. After reading Pepin, I felt almost reverential reading Child's cookbook. So matter of fact, but so good.

Recently, I've given Bon Apetit another shot. But, interestingly, it still doesn't do it for me. My magazines of choice are Food & Wine and Cooking Light. They're so much more than recipe compilations. Like the books by Pepin, Bourdain and Reichl, they're about experiencing life through the prism of food.

And that makes good reading.

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