A Buffet of Food Memoirs

Even for a junkie like me, it's hard keeping up with the constant flow of new food memoirs that are cropping up on bookstore shelves like weeds. It's a literary all-you-can-eat buffet, a smorgasbord of titles covering all aspects (and perspectives) of the food world, from a former eavesdropping server at Per Se (Phoebe Damrosch's "Service Included") to a celiac girl-meets-chef love story (Shauna James Ahearn's "Gluten-Free Girl") -- and that's just a sliver of what's been published since September.

While on vacation earlier this month, I had time to make a dent in the tower of books by my bed, and devour a brand new memoir hybrid (part love letter to New Orleans) I'm dying to tell you about.

And just as soon as I finished all four books, I've come to learn about yet another newly launched title ("Fair Shares for All" by John Haney) that has me hungry, not to mention Natalie Goldberg's very new "Old Friend from Faraway: The Practice of Writing Memoir," just in case I want to bone up on my own manuscript. Below, in no particular order, an overview of my bedside pile, and please share any memoir finds, either old or new, that are worth a looksee.

"Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home" by Eduardo Machado and Michael Domitrovich (Oct. 2007)
I loved the first half of this book, which chronicles Machado's childhood in Cuba during the 1950s until the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Machado and his brother were among the thousands of Cuban children who were exiled to the U.S. on flights under Operation Peter Pan. Life's little pleasures, before and after exile, centered around food, and Machado describes its role in his strong-willed, passionate family in rich, delicious detail. Food is how they always identified themselves, so when the family, which immigrated in stages, was completely reunited, they struggled together with the highly processed diet Americans had come to embrace. I lose interest as Machado details his adult life, which is more about his passion for playwriting and exploring his sexual identity. Although interesting, the food memoir gets diluted, and I am hungry for those earlier days. Includes 30 home-style recipes, but unfortunately they are spread throughout the book without an index.

"Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home" by Kim Sunee (Jan. 2008)
Author Web site

Kim Sunee was born in Korea but raised in New Orleans by adoptive parents. Unlike Machado whose ethnic identity is unmistakable, Sunee is constantly searching for hers. Even with her new family, Sunee never feels quite at home and leaves the nest early, traveling around the world. She finds emotional solace in the arms of French entrepreneur Olivier Baussan, who founded skincare company L'Occitane and specialty food company Oliver & Co. With him and his cast of rich, famous and eccentric characters, Sunee led a glamorous life in France as his unofficial wife for several years. It was in France that she learned to cook, which proved to be an emotional anchor. We learn much about emotional anchors and lack thereof, as Sunee traverses through deep, dark psychoanalytic territory, which may be unappetizing for some. I was swept away by all the travel and by her fortitude to figure things out for herself, even if it meant a not-so-happy ending. There are at least 50 recipes to try, with a handy index in the back.

"The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" by Judith Jones (Oct 2007)
Longtime fans of cookbook greats such as Julia Child, Marion Cunningham and Edna Lewis finally get to meet Judith Jones, the editing genius behind these famous household names. Jones, who took off for Paris after World War II, details her coming-of-age (and palate) experiences in France with her new husband (and life-long eating partner) Evan, and then as the renowned cookbook editor at Knopf working with culinary heavyweights. Having read Julia Child's posthumous biography "My Life in France," with her nephew Alex Prud'homme, Jones's memoir felt a bit like a repeat, but what really comes through is the love story, how she and Evan and met, and how they ate with gusto until his death in 1996. The book includes 50 recipes, which Jones spent much time fine tuning, not only by category but with anecdotes and plenty of back stories.

"Gumbo Tales" by Sara Roahen(Feb 12, 2008)
Author Web site
Many of you know I'm in love with New Orleans and I try to share that love in words as well as in deeds. But Sara Roahen in her brand new "Gumbo Tales" (which launched on Mardi Gras), she takes the King Cake for pouring out her heart and soul for the Crescent City. A native of Wisconsin, who spent some time in California kitchens, moved to New Orleans with her husband and decided, come hell or Katrina's high waters, she was gonna make this town hers. But this book is so much more a chronicle of how she takes on New Orleans and the food that makes it tick. She's a food geek alright, and she researches the history and the traditions for everything she encounters, from the crawfish to the Sazerac. She interviews the old timers and she gets right in there, getting her fingernails dirty and learning how to become an eater of the most intrepid kind. So she's in love, and she writes it all down, like a good reporter, and then this storm comes and forces her into exile (there's that word exile again!) in Philadelphia of all places. Roahen is funny, strange and like a true New Orleanian, gets right under your skin. I can't wait for what else she's got in that brain of hers. Recipes not included, but check her Web site for occasional updates.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 19, 2008; 11:44 AM ET Cook's Library
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good blog. i love that these combine my favorite things...reading, travel and food! keep the interesting - and different - blogs coming. You mentioned you were going to have twice monthly installments of 'Spice Rack'...is this coming soon?

Posted by: mg at work | February 20, 2008 10:10 AM

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