When MFK Fisher launched her extensive writing career, she wrote about food in a way that was quite unexpected of the genre. She didn’t put together restaurant reviews or criticisms. Very few recipes came from her desk. Instead, she utilized all things culinary as metaphor—for life, for love, for death, even for sex. In fact, her work was so emotional that it made some readers (and fellow, threatened writers) uncomfortable. Through that work, she essentially created a genre: the food memoir.
What began with her essays blossomed into full length narrative inspired by all manner of human experience. It was a pretty sparse category for a while there, but these days, we’re seeing nearly as many food world recollections as we are cookbooks. In this roundup, we’ve decided to narrow the focus to just a few, those that speak to the restless soul, curious about all the many things related to cuisine.
Anyone familiar with Chef Edward Lee’s food, a flawless amalgamation of his influences from growing up in Brooklyn, New York and his heritage as a Korean American knows a serious amount of consideration is given to each and every dish. He’s a talented, thoughtful chef, and in this memoir, in which he traverses the U.S., stopping in cities from New Orleans to Paterson, New Jersey, Lee proves his insightful, curious and considerate nature goes far beyond the four walls of a kitchen—not to mention some serious writing chops.
The book reads as a sort of state of the union as told through the fabric of U.S. food, thoughtfully demonstrating that American will not likely ever become a single blanket culture, but a quilt of many.
When author Dave Eggers heard the tale behind Mokhtar Alkhanshali’s coffee importing business, his storytelling radar must’ve gone haywire. He made it his mission to tell the tale, one of a Yemeni-American man that became possessed by the idea of reviving the and restoring to its former glory the coffee growing industry of his ancestors. The journey to doing so was so fraught with logistical and sociopolitical complications, corruption and mortal peril that at times it reads more like a modern war novel than a food and beverage biography.
Alkhanshali’s dogged determination and obsessive pride in his heritage make for an exhilarating, energizing adventure—caffeination not required.
Vogler is a San Francisco legend behind some of the city’s institutional bars, like Bar Agricole and Trou Normand, known especially for inventive cocktails and meticulously curated spirits lists. In this adventure memoir, he takes readers around the world to see where he sources those magical liquids, from French chateaus for armagnacs to off the grid distilleries in Havana, and other far flung spots. We get a glimpse into the world of “grower” spirits, traditions that are centuries old as well as some new ones, and get a deeper understanding of what makes those precious bottles fetch a pretty penny.
Historically speaking, wine writing has often required a serious understanding of a very daunting and vast world. But this book invites in even the uninitiated, and by taking readers on a journey to some underrecognized viticultural areas in parts of Portugal and Austria, lesser known growing region of Italy, France and even the United States (Jersey born wine, anyone?), it delivers as much for those with a case of wanderlust as well as the ones looking to case out some cool new wine destinations. I recommend reading up before you head to your next cocktail party; I’m not ashamed to admit that I even casually dropped the names of a few uncommon grapes into conversation with my wine geek friends, and I felt pretty darn cool for a minute there.