This week’s Julieverse Reads post was written by Jessica Tom, who gets huge kudos and congratulations for debuting her first novel, Food Whore, today. (Yay Jessica!) A food lover herself, and former restaurant critic for the Yale Daily News Magazine, Jessica is sharing a list of books for food lovers. These books may be great for you, or someone on your holiday gift list.
What a great time to learn about the restaurant world. You have TV shows, chef memoirs, splashy magazine spreads, up-to-the-minute blogs, behind-the-scenes Instagram feeds — even movies starring some of the biggest actors and actresses on the planet.
When I wrote my first novel, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit, I consumed as much of this content as possible. Reading about restaurants and food became my “work” — how cool is that? Here’s just a small sampling of some of my favorite books, click on the title to be connected to Amazon with an affiliate link:
The Fourth Star by Leslie Brenner
This book is a fly-on-the-wall look at one of NYC’s most iconic fine-dining restaurants, Daniel, from every possible angle. From the reservationist to the kitchen to the dining room to the corporate office. It also has a riveting hook: Brenner spends an entire calendar year immersed in Daniel as it tries to raise its New York Times star rating from 3 stars, “excellent”, to 4 stars, “extraordinary”. Will it get there — and how? Well, I won’t spoil your appetite.
Garlic & Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl was the New York Times restaurant critic from 1993 to 1999, and her book has a lot of the delightful tidbits that you’d want from a food critic memoir: disguises, transcendent meals, the lengths restaurants will go to catch a critic. But Reichl is also a self-proclaimed hippie from Berkeley who once dumpster-dove for her food. Her tales of lavish meals (paid on the corporate card) are laced with a spiritual unrest. Think her 1993 Le Cirque review was really 3 stars? Ask her alter-ego Molly…
Born Round by Frank Bruni
Like Reichl’s memoir, this book has all the food critic requisites. It’s also about a conundrum that simmered just under the surface of Bruni’s reviews: a lifelong battle with food and his weight. Bruni is a sharp and intelligent writer, but also tender and in many passages, quite brave. He’s also super funny.
My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dunea
Restaurant food is the chef’s art, sure, but it’s also about investor wants and food costs and keeping customer satisfaction high. This book shows what chefs want not because it’s impressive or press-worthy, but because it touches upon some part of themselves. Some of their requests are very specific (Daniel Boulud would drink a La Mission Haut-Brion 1955) or surprising (Wylie Dufresne’s wish is simpler than his cuisine: scrambled eggs, a cheeseburger, steak). Dunea pairs these interviews with striking photographs. Dare I say, the book is as good as eating in these chefs’ restaurants… maybe better.
The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit
Not a story or real-life account, but a reference book of flavors and why they go together. If cookbooks are like sheet music, this is a like a book of harmonies. I used this book all the time as I was coming up with fictitious dishes. Sure, you might know that cucumbers go with dill, but what about pork, rhubarb, and rose?
Food Whore by Jessica Tom
And, of course, if you’re looking for another insider look into the restaurant scene, check out my book, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit — out now!!
JESSICA TOM is a writer and food blogger living in Brooklyn. She has worked on initiatives with restaurants, hospitality startups, food trucks, and citywide culinary programs. She graduated from Yale University with a concentration in fiction writing and wrote the restaurant review for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit is her first novel. Connect with her at www.jessicatom.com and @jessica_tom.
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