Holiday Gift Guide 2012 – Food Memoirs And Non-Fiction

It was food writer Molly O’Neil who said that food preferences, habits and rituals are also intimate windows into disparate cultures, classes, eras and places. We see this clearly between the pages of our favorite food memoirs, the latest, hottest coming-of-age stories.

This year I’ve traveled to Berlin with Luisa Weiss in My Berlin Kitchen, I donned chef whites and piped buttercream alongside Jenna Weber in White Jacket Required, and I ducked behind the scenes of Top Chef with Gail Simmons in Talking with My Mouth Full – and all from under a quilt on my sofa.

I’ve fallen hard for food memoirs and non-fiction this year, reigniting a love that began with Kitchen Confidential and Ruth Reichl’s books a many years ago.

I’m sharing a few of my favorites today; they’re certain to make a perfect Christmas gift for the foodie in the family.

1. Talking with My Mouth Full by Gail Simmons (Hyperion, 2012)

I adored Gail’s frank and friendly account of her food-centric upbringing, her journey as a food writer, and her rise to TV fame. I’ve watched enough Top Chef to have Gail’s voice in my head as I was reading – and she writes exactly as she talks (not everyone does). I couldn’t wait to steal away each day and hang out with Gail!

The fact that Gail is a Canadian girl and part of the book takes place in my Montreal is just icing on the cake. Buy the book; her amusing account of working as an assistant to Jeffery Steingarten is worth the price tag alone.

Find Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater on Amazon.

2. My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss (Viking, 2012)

With the subtitle “A love story, with recipes”, it’s hard not to love Luisa Weiss’s charming memoir. She writes beautifully and sweeps us up into her culinary tale of finding love and her true home.

The recipes included have a decidedly international flair, thanks to Italian, American and German influences, but most feature accessible ingredients and simple enough techniques to prepare.

Find My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) on Amazon.

3. White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story by Jenna Weber (Sterling Epicure, 2012)

Ever since Bourdain’s tales from the trenches of LCB, the culinary-school play-by-play is a story that captures imaginations. In White Jacket Required, we are fortunate to return to the world of white coats and tall hats in an entertaining read that leaves us hungry for fruit tarts and flourless chocolate cake.

Jenna’s book is easy to read, difficult to put down, and at the end, leaves readers content with the fact that the author is exactly where she is supposed to be.

Find White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story on Amazon.

4. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House, 2011)

Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, & Butter is an expertly written autobiography about a chef searching for purpose in her life and finding it through cooking. From one artfully recounted story to the next, we follow author Hamilton from kitchen to kitchen, breathlessly anticipating her next adventure, her next mouthful.

As Hamilton so passionately depicts, there are few life stories as exciting and colorful than that of a chef; in the evenings, I found myself getting Danny’s attention and forcing him to listen while I read excerpts out loud. Both delicious and engrossing, Blood, Bones & Butter is a must-read for any foodie worth their salt.

Find Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef on Amazon.

5. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (Scribner, 2012)

If the recipe headnote is your favorite part of a cookbook, you’ll fall hard for the narrative cookbook, An Everlasting Meal. Written by  Tamar Adler in a series of essays, the the rustic, soft spoken instructions of this book read almost like prose – incredibly practical prose.

Tamar weaves in instructions on how to salvage burned or over-salted dishes, reminds us not to overlook the humblest of ingredients, and generously gives us strategies for economical cooking.

You can read some short excerpts of the book on Tamar’s website or find An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace on Amazon.

Did you read a great food memoir or non-fiction book this past year? Please share your titles in the comments.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I enjoyed a number of the stories in “Don’t Try This At Home,” which was a collection of cooking disaster experiences from expert chefs.

  2. What a great post—I *love* food memoirs, and generally read about 3 a year. This year I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France”, “Lunch in Paris”, and “Barnheart”. The last one isn’t so much as a foodie memoir, but a homesteading memoir.
    I have never heard of any of these and two made it to my next year’s list. First up: My Berlin Kitchen 🙂
    Sarah M

  3. kelly @ kellybakes says

    What a great list! I’ve only read ‘Blood, Bones and Butter,’ so I’m thankful for recommendations for the other 4. I started reading Reichl and Bourdain a few years ago, but was disappointed not to see more food memoir on the shelves of bookstores. I’m glad more have been popping up!

  4. I agree with your thoughts on all of these books, and the only one I haven’t read yet is White Jacket Required. I always pick up the “Best of Food Writing” books and just grabbed the 2012 edition. I’m only part way through it, but liking what I’m reading so far. I read The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Food and Family and that was good too. French Kids Eat Everything was interesting, and every year I reread one of Laurie Colwin’s books – this year it was More Home Cooking…I can never get enough of her.

  5. Serendipitously, all of these books are available through my library. I’ll have to wait for them to get to me, but at least I don’t have to purchase them! I’m looking forward to reading them!

  6. I LOVED “Blood, Bones and Butter”!
    Other favs. I read inthe same vein this past year are
    On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis
    A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg
    The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing by David Lebovitz

  7. I love all the suggestions in both the post and the comments so I thought I would add the few that I read this year:
    The Sharper The Knife The Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn
    The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn
    Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-Creating One Amazing Meal From Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook, Chris Kimball
    Life, On The Line, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas
    I am also anxious to read Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
    I better get started, I have some good food writing to read!

  8. I love biographies, and if you can have a biography that centers around food, then I typically love it that much more. Thank you for not only this list, but the opportunity for others to comment on even more food-related books they enjoy. There are so many I am excited to read! One of my favorites is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pepin’s autobiography.

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