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…

Stephanie Alexander and obsession

‘He’s obsessed!’ I heard a friend of mine described that way recently, behind his back. It’s a powerful tag. Most commonly it infers a dysfunction, a failing to overcome in favour of personal wholeness. Proponents of that holy grail — work-life balance — paint obsession a wrong to be righted. But I often wonder, does obsession deserve a little more…

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,…

Hotel Babylon

Honestly, it’s such a tawdry read I’m almost embarrassed to say I read it. Hotel Babylon is an atrociously voyeuristic account of a 24-hour period in one of London’s five-star hotels. The storyteller, we are told, is an employee working a double shift on the reception desk. Though it’s more likely an accumulation of experiences…

Halligan’s ‘The Taste of Memory’

In my view, Marion Halligan is one of the most intelligent food writers on Australian shores.  While her second food-related memoir, The Taste of Memory, will not suit all palates, I found it a mesmerising and gentle read. As a writer, Halligan is insightful and easy to be with. More importantly, she is wise—a moderating…