Gopnik on Cafes and Restaurants

I quoted yesterday from Adam Gopnik’s beautiful book The Table Comes First. As one who tries to write about tables and food, I bow down to writers like this. Gopnik not only writes well and ranges broadly, he sees in food so much more than food. The book is a delight to read. I don’t…

De Botton on the Table

The popular English philosopher Alain de Botton has gotten a mountain of press over his book Religion for Atheists, and not all of it glowing. I’ve commented on it more generally here. But what he says about the table is worth a separate mention. In one of his early chapters, de Botton argues that embracing the stranger…

Poole’s ‘You Aren’t What You Eat’

Not long ago I read Stephen Poole’s biting little book You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed Up with Gastroculture. In the final chapter I scrawled in the margins ‘I am drenched with sarcasm’. Truly, it drips from every page. Still, despite the lasting damp, Poole’s critique should be heard. Poole takes aim at the current cultural obsessions with…

Southern Fare III

With my beloved far away in rural Texas, I’ve been re-reading Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions, a delightfully written memoir of food and family in the South. It makes me wish even more I was there with her. West’s personal observations about gender in the kitchens of her Tennessee childhood illustrate how much has changed in…

Southern Fare II

Another installment from Michael Lee West’s southern memoir Consuming Passions on family, identity and recipes …. Even when I’m all by myself, I never cook alone. My grandparents are dead, along with my father and some favorite aunts …  but my family lives on in their recipes. I bring Mimi’s chocolate cake to potlucks and Aunt Tempe’s…

Southern Fare I

My beloved is in Texas; returned to the place of family, sweet tea and barbecue. In honour of her travels (without me!) I’ve been re-reading Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions: A Food Obsessed Life. It’s a wonderful book, an easy-to-read memoir of family and food in the South. For the most part, the stories centre around the…

Gopnik’s ‘The Table Comes First’

The table comes first, before the meal and even before the kitchen where it’s made. It precedes everything in remaining the one plausible hearth of family life, the raft to ride down the river of our exitence, even in the hardest times. The table also comes first in the sense that its drama — the…

Kitchen Table Memoirs

I’m not long back from a few days in Christchurch, New Zealand, with the wonderful communities that make up the church formally known as Spreydon, now Southwest. More of that later. On the way home I passed the transit hours (always too many) reading Nick Richardson’s Kitchen Table Memoirs: Shared Stories from Australian Writers. It’s a…

Chelminski’s ‘The Perfectionist’

If you’re a fan of biography, especially from the kitchen, then Rudolph Chelminski’s The Perfectionist is a delectable read.  It’s a captivating and honest account of the rise and tragic fall of Bernard Loiseau, the irrepressible, larger than life and entirely likeable star of modern French gastronomy–a man who lived in obsessive pursuit of excellence, even immortality, amidst…

Bill Buford’s ‘Heat’

Another good kitchen read. Staff writer for the New Yorker, Bill Buford was commissioned to write a profile of celebrated New York chef Mario Batali. To do so, Buford wrangled his way into Batali’s kitchen as his ‘slave’. Eighteen months later, Buford had progressed from lowly kitchen hand to line cook, along the way spending…

Gay Bilson’s ‘Plenty’

In Plenty: Digression on Food, the legendary Australian restaurateur Gay Bilson provides a compilation of intelligent observations about food and culture in Australia. She does so through the lens of her own experience in three notable Sydney restaurants. It is a pleasure to read. For me, Bilson provides one of the more eloquent testimonies to a…

Soup and democracy

I like soup.  During these cold winter months I make a large pot every weekend–pumpkin and ginger, corn and asparagus, chicken noodle, lamb and veggie, lentil and chorizo.  For me there’s nothing as comforting, no meal as intimate or satisfying as a bowl of soup served with a good sourdough.  It warms the soul as…

Jung’s ‘Food for Life’

I prattle on a lot about eating as a spiritual act, and I believe it. But to say it’s a spiritual act does not claim eating as eternally positive. Halos and cornflakes don’t always go together. To claim eating as spiritual is to affirm it as an act of meaning. As the oft-quoted culinary philosophy…

Ginsberg on waiting

Debra Ginsberg’s Waiting is a wonderful book. Part memoir, part social commentary, it’s a thoughtful reflection on twenty years of waitressing in American restaurants.  From New York to California, from luncheonettes and bistros to pizza parlours and fine dining rooms, Ginsberg’s journey is diverse. At points, her story is quite moving. As is typical of…

Cooking and calling

Commonly, the experience of ‘calling’ in the Christian faith is approached as a mysterious thing and highly prized; to have heard ‘the call’ is to have entered the ranks of the spiritual elite. Tragically, such a mystical approach leaves the majority of Christians in the stands; there they sit—excluded and disempowered—destined to be spectators while…

The Spirit of Food

I hate tapas! There, I’ve said it. I can’t stand the current Melbourne obsession with multiple share-plates of miniscule ‘tastings’ that leave me nothing but frustrated and hungry. If I’m gong out to eat I want a meal I can sink my teeth into, as well as my mind. I want substance and depth, not…

From the kitchen to the pulpit

Chefs are not always great writers. There are some wonderful exceptions, but most gifted chefs are doing what they do best without literary diversion. While recipe books abound, to have a chef write more explicitly of what draws him to his profession–and what keeps him there–is rare. It is this that makes Daniel Boulud’s Letters to…

Barbecue: Heaven in the South

I’ve confessed already, I’m a lover of meat.  Given my natural preference for the finer things, it’s a crass confession.  But there it is. One of my enduring memories of Texas, the home state of my beloved, is of the great Southern tradition of barbecue.  Not the backyard variety of charred sausages, sauce and bad coleslaw…

In Praise of Meat

Last night we had lamb for dinner. It was a small, rolled cut stuffed with a combination of breadcrumbs, walnuts and dried fruits, fresh herbs and generous handfuls of onion and garlic. It was delicious. I love the smell of lamb roasting in the oven. It comes with powerful associations … not so much memories as feelings….

Sara Miles’ ‘Take this Bread’

No doubt, one of the best reads for me in the past two years was Sara Miles’ Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion. I can’t claim it a life changer, but as a memoir of conversion centered at the table of God, it’s a book that’s affirmed for me so much about faith, eucharist and church,…