The Cook by Maylis de Kerangal

When you’re young, and you’re making decisions about school subjects and careers, there are inevitably pressures. For some kids, their passions line-up with family or social expectations. Lucky them. For others, expectations can steer them away from what they’d really, really like to be doing. I think we all know of that person who desperately wanted to be a carpenter or an artist or in advertising, yet they come from a ‘family of doctors’ and suddenly find their Year 12 dominated by chemistry and biology rather than graphic design. Personally speaking, I traded a Forestry degree for Environmental Planning – I think I probably would have ended up in the same place regardless but I can’t deny that my mum’s concerns about my being posted as a park ranger somewhere remote, didn’t go unheard. Continue reading

Mãn by Kim Thúy

Mãn by Kim Thúy is a slip of a novel but looks can be deceptive – it’s a rich, melancholy tale about belonging.

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who scarifies all that she can for her daughter.

‘In the distance, in the warm light, she saw me, and I became her daughter. She gave me a second birth by bringing me up in a big city, an anonymous elsewhere, behind a schoolyard, surrounded by children who envied me for having a mother who taught school and sold iced bananas.’ Continue reading

Antarctica on a Plate by Alexa Thomson

If you’re looking for a memoir about exploring, ice and braving the extremities of Antarctica, then Alexa Thomson’s Antarctica on a Plate is not for you. Yes, there’s ice but the focus is on the challenge of cooking large quantities of food on a small stove, and the fact that in Antarctica you never run out of freezer space. Continue reading

White Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby

I’ve just finished a story about a chef who won his wife in a pool game; worked in the finest hotels in the world; saved hundreds of people from a fire; cooked for kings and queens; had affairs with high-profile women; fought in wars; lived apart from his wife for decades but spent his last months with her; coined a word (deliciousness/ umami); and revolutionised the way kitchens were set up and run.

It may sound like fiction but it’s all part of the life of French chef, Auguste Escoffier. It’s remarkable stuff. Yet with so much to work with, why did I find N. M. Kelby’s novel, White Truffles in Winter, bland? Continue reading

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

a-cooks-tour-anthony-bourdain

When it comes to writing about food, Anthony Bourdain pretty much redefined the genre in 2000 with Kitchen Confidential. His rock’n’roll tales from the kitchen were gripping and yet wonderfully repulsive. I’m not sure how he fills his days now, whether it’s behind a grill or a keyboard, but a number of books and documentaries followed Confidential, including my most recent read, A Cook’s Tour. Continue reading