One of the most aggravating things about travelling is the requisite wasted time spent hanging out in airports, bus stations, ferry terminals and other random transit spots. I also hate short-haul flights during which in-flight entertainment usually means listening to the annoying guy in the row behind you try to pick up the gal sitting next to him. At least on long-haul flights, you can watch a couple of movies. The best way, of course, to kill an hour (or several) is with a good book (and an iPod). And while books do tend to weigh down one’s carry-on luggage, they’re worth their weight in gold.
Because I’ve been buzzing around the region a lot the past few months, I’ve had a lot of time to tuck into a few good reads. And, as you would imagine, several of those are food-related. I thought I’d put together a short reading list of books that I’ve both enjoyed on recent trips and a few others (oldies but goodies) that I highly recommend.
Fun, fast reads — If all you want is something fun to flip through: The Food of Love by Anthony Capella is a very cute, funny, retelling of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac tale. This time, Cyrano is a chef in Rome, while Roxanne is an American exchange student. There are some great food scenes in here. Jay Rayner’s The Apologist may or may not have been inspired by Chef Bernard Loiseau’s suicide in 2003. Either way, it is a ridiculously funny story about a food critic who, having driven a chef to kill himself, apologizes so beautifully that the UN hires him to be their Chief Apologist. It’s a witty, silly and totally fun book to read. I could never figure out if Stuart Stevens’ Feeding Frenzy was fiction or non-fiction. If it really is a true story (as its publisher claims), I suspect that the truth has been Chatwin-ized a tad. In the book, the author and a sexy female friend dash across Europe, dining at all of the continent’s three-Michelin starred restaurants on consecutive days. If successful, the femme fatale’s (idiot) banker boyfriend has offered to cover the cost of their trip. To make things more amusing, the author imports a vintage Mustang convertible for the trip and somehow ends up babysitting a Golden Retriever named Henry. Javier Sierra’s The Secret Supper is not really about food. It’s yet another in a long line of Da Vinci Code wannabes. Nonetheless, it is an amusing read and perfect for killing time while waiting for one’s flight.
Damn good food writing — If you want to sink your teeth into some tasty, beautifully-written prose: I love Andrew Todhunter’s A Meal Observed. I like it so much that I’ve (1) booked a table to dine at Taillevant during my upcoming trip to Paris and (2) gotten Chef Philippe Legendre to take a look at and sign my copy of Todhunter’s book. The book is centered around one long and luxurious dinner at Taillevant, arguable the most famous restaurant in Paris. Todhunter had spent month’s hanging out in the restaurant’s kitchens (although, amusingly, Legendre, who was head chef then and is featured prominently in the book, had absolutely no recollection of Todhunter when I asked about him). He uses the dinner as a launch pad to discuss and describe what goes on behind the scenes in the gastronomic institution. A book every foodie must read is Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef (as well as his earlier The Making of a Chef). Firstly, Ruhlman writes beautifully. Secondly, he writes more knowledgably about his subjects (in this book The Culinary Institute of America’s Master Chef exam and Thomas Keller) than anyone else in the industry. My own favourite food writer is Calvin Trillin. I love his wit and his style. His Feeding a Yen is one of my favourite books. The chapter on searching for dark pumpernickel bagels in New York in hopes of enticing his daughter to move back to the Big Apple is by itself worth the price of the whole book. A smart, short book that foodies and aspiring chefs should read is Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef. This lovingly written book really is a great way to learn more about both this great chef and also about the restaurant industry as a whole.
Celeb Chefs and Restaurants — If you want to learn more about the people you love and love to hate: I’ve just finished reading Gordon Ramsay’s Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen. And while it is pretty badly written, it does help you understand the guy and the really tough life he’s led. Almost a companion to Ramsay’s book is Marco Pierre White’s autobiography White Slave. In sharp contrast to these British bad boys and their bestsellers is Arrigo Cipriani’s Harry’s Bar. As a huge fan of this Venetian institution, I really enjoyed reading (and re-reading) this well-written little book that traces the history of the bar.
S and I are going to be on the road pretty much for the next 4-5 weeks. So, we’ll be stocking up on some new books for the trip. Do you guys and gals out there have any book recommendations for us? Any must-reads we should know about? I’d love to know what are your favourite tasty texts.