Read It, Cook Eat, Eat It
There is always something eminently enticing about a description of food. A good author brings you right into the kitchen or dining table as they conjure the smell, taste and experience of a good meal. For me, reading about food makes me want to drop everything and experience it myself. Here are three fabulous novels paired with three fabulous cookbooks that’ll take you from your reading nook and straight into your kitchen!
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
We meet Lois Clary, a robotic engineer for a start-up company in Silicon Valley, living the prototypical overworked tech lifestyle. Despite the long hours and grueling work, there is one bright spot in Lois’s life: her daily takeout order of spicy soup and sourdough bread from a curious restaurant around the corner. When the restaurant suddenly closes, the owners give Lois a bit of their sourdough starter as a parting gift. As Lois starts baking with the starter, she gains entry into the San Francisco food underground where gastro-entrepreneurs fuse food with technology in incredible experiments. Oh, and did I mention the sourdough starter is semi-sentient? Blending science-fiction with a touch of magical realism, Sloan cooks up a fascinating novel of how the the world’s oldest technologies meet the cutting edge.
Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish
Utilizing the titular ingredients, one has everything they need for beautiful loaf of bread. This is the central philosophy behind Ken Forkish’s bread method. Formerly of IBM, Forkish left a twenty year career in the tech industry to open a bakery in Portland, Oregon. His recipes leave no room for interpretation, requiring extraordinary precision in temperature, weight and time. However, the results speak for themselves. From this book, I was able to bake the best loaf of bread in my life on my first go-around and I’m getting better and more adventurous (my whole wheat loaf scented with herbes de Provence is particular favorite) with every loaf I make. If you have the patience and tenacity, this is fabulous introduction to bread baking.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Turning our attention from the kitchen to the front of house, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter is a a rollicking ride through the New York restaurant scene. A tell-all tale in the vein of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, Sweetbitter is a salacious look into the life of 21 year old Tess as she navigates her new life in New York City. We follow Tess as she moves to New York from Ohio and lands a job as a backwaiter at a semi-prestigious restaurant. This is a novel that plumbs one’s appetite for the carnal, lascivious and sensual.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
If Stephanie Danler writes the “mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet” in Sweetbitter, then Samin Nosrat gives you the ability to command those tastes in the kitchen in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Chef, cooking educator and food writer Samin Nosrat posits one’s command of salt, fat, acid and heat is all that it takes to be truly successful in the kitchen. And after reading this book, I have to agree! If you’re just looking for recipes, look for another book. Instead, use this book to hone your instincts in the kitchen so that you trust your taste buds and understand why a recipe works and doesn’t work. I wholeheartedly recommend this book - it has changed everything about my approach to the kitchen!
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Both epic and intensely personal in scope, Like Water for Chocolate is the story of Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter of a Mexican family during the turn of the twentieth century. Forced to abide by a family tradition which requires the youngest daughter to never marry and remain at home caring for her mother until her death, the novel follows Tita through her life as she grows into a more powerful, independent woman. Literally told through recipes, each chapter begins with one of Tita’s recipes, which is the lens through which every event is seen. This is a book where food, quite literally, has immense power.
The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy
If Tita’s recipes in Like Water for Chocolate don’t convince you to jump into the kitchen, perhaps this book will. A self-described “ethno-gastronomist,” British-born Diana Kennedy spent fifty years travelling through Mexico working with cooks of all kinds and in nearly every region of the country. The Art of Mexican Cooking is a fantastic first resource for a cook looking to expand their repertoire of Mexican dishes. Kennedy’s approach is precise and without shortcuts, but the results are truly special and regionally specific.