Ruth Reichl

My Summer Reading List: Kitchen Confidential

Originally published on June 17, 2009.

Last time on My Summer Reading List I reviewed Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the beautiful story of a little girl in love with food who grows up to be a renowned food writer. Tender is a romantic telling of a life spent in food. Kitchen Confidential is a whole other beast.

Kitchen Confidential BourdainSemi-retired chef Anthony Bourdain shocked the world with his tome on the inside workings of the restaurant industry, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. As the story goes, Kitchen Confidential blew the lid of the industry upon it’s release in 2000 by revealing the drunken, drug-laden debauchery that exists in American professional kitchens. I question how many people were genuinely surprised by the revelations in Bourdain’s work, after all the restaurant industry employs more people than any other industry in the nation, save the Federal government, over 12 million jobs nationwide.

I believe that most of the hullabaloo was feigned. After all, of those in the media not currently employed in the Life (as Bourdain calls it) most at least used to be employed in it. To a lifer like myself the book was comfortable. It was like sitting down with an old friend over a bottle of Johnny Walker getting three sheets while reliving memories and swapping tales.

Bourdain paints a perfect picture of life in the kitchen, testosterone driven trash talking, seducing servers and drinking way too much. But what surprised me was the author’s love of food. Images sketched in words of his first raw oyster freshly plucked from the brine while only a lad to his experiences with the amazing creations of Scott Bryan, Eric Ripert and Ferran Adrià. Throughout the text I was constantly reminded of both Bourdain’s love affair with food and his sheer talent for the smithing of words.

Anthony Bourdain Medium RawThe boy’s got chops. At the time of its publishing I don’t think Bourdain knew just how good a writer he was. The book was so explosive, so popular that it actually was made into a television series, all though it was a short lived one. Fast forward nearly a decade and Tony is no longer commanding the kitchen at Les Halles, no longer going on three-day coke benders (I hope) and no longer chasing tail. He has become what he loathed and found it’s a pretty nice gig, this celebrity chef thing.

I made sure to put Kitchen Confidential on my summer reading list because I knew how important a book it is. What I did not expect was how much I would learn from it. In fact, I have gotten a whole new reading list from it. Bourdain emphasizes how important it is for any chef to read the classics, if you will, of our profession.

In sports the greats of the game are known by just one name: Hank, Bo, and Michael. Sports fans know of whom I speak. The culinary world is no different and it is these chefs of which Bourdain speaks. Works of literature produced from chefs so revered that they are known by just one name, Escoffier and Bocuse. So thank you, Tony. Not only have you penned a great book, but you have also made my summer reading project a little longer.

Next: Heat by Bill Buford.

My Summer Reading List: Tender at the Bone

Originally published on June 4, 2009.

Recently I ventured over to amazon.com and purchased a box full of foodie books to read over the summer. As I complete each one I will review them here for all to see. The list is an impressive one and I have chosen to lead it off with Ruth Reichl’s 1988 opus Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table.

Ruth Reichl Tender at the BoneOthers on my summer reading list include Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain), Heat (Bill Buford), The Man Who Ate Everything (Jeffery Steingarten) and The Making of a Chef (Michael Ruhlman).  I know what you are thinking, “Shouldn’t he have read those already?”  The answer is yes I should have.  You know what?  I haven’t seen Rainman or Switch Blade yet either.  I’ll get around to it.  But first, Tender at the Bone:

First published in 1988, Tender at the Bone was way ahead of the curve.  After all, the phrase foodie didn’t really even exist at the time nor the Food Network for that matter.  Bobby Flay was still in Culinary School.  Emeril LaGasse was only known for being the guy who replaced Paul Prudhomme at Commander’s Palace.

Tender is the story of a lifetime immersed in food, a coming of age tale a lifetime in the making.  When reading, one feels that Reichl is telling you her life story over a bottle of red and a plate of brie and grapes rather than leafing through an autobiography.  On more than one occasion I was left thinking, What an amazing life – she should write a book about it.  That’s how easy the prose is, it reads more like conversation.

Ruth Reichl grew up during an amazing period of strife and growth in America’s history but she was not a bystander; she was in the thick of it.  When hypocritical Northerners ridiculed the Deep South while keeping minorities at a safe distance in their own lives Reichl was color blind.  While many hippies dreamed of joining a commune, Reichl lived in one.  And through it all there was food.

Tender at the Bone is a must read for anyone who loves food and believes in the force that food can be in a person’s life.  There is a reason why Reichl sits at the head of the table of food writers with the likes of Bittman, Ruhlman, Steingarten and Burford.  The reason?  She is damned good at what she does.

Next: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

IACP Cookbook Awards

Originally posted on eater.com April, 23, 2010.

Last night in Portland, the International Association of Culinary Professionals held their annual cookbook awards, honoring the best in food writing, photography, design and journalism over the last year. Ruth Reichl and Kim Severson presided over hosting duties, and the big winners were: John Besh for My New Orleans in the “American” category, Thomas Keller and Dave Cruz for Ad Hoc at Home in the “Chefs and Restaurants” category, Rose Levy Beranbaum who’s Rose’s Heavenly Cakes picked up both the Peoples’ Choice award and a win in the “Baking: Savory or Sweet” category, and Reichl, who won for Gourmet Today in the “Compilations” category. Also of note: Stumptown Coffee guru Duane Sorenson picked up a Special Recognition award for community service.

My Summer Reading List: The Man Who Ate Everything

Originally posted on September 3, 2009.

The unifying theme of the books on my reading list has been the narrative – my life in food. Ruth Reichl’s journey from awkward youth to renowned food critic (Tender at the Bone), Anthony Bourdain’s autobiographical “adventures in the culinary underbelly” (Kitchen Confidential) and the article that turned into a career change and then a best selling book (Heat) for former New Yorker editor Bill Buford. This cannot be said of Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything.

In 1989, Steingarten was just your run-of-the-mill Harvard power-lawyer working for an average, everyday Manhattan mega firm when he was offered the position of food critic for Vogue magazine. I knew this from watching Iron Chef: America, where he is the curmudgeonly judge with an opinion about everything. I also knew that The Man Who Ate Everything was both a James Beard Book Award Finalist and a Julia Child Book Award Winner. But before he could assume his new post, he had to agree to eat everything. No small task for a self-proclaimed finicky eater.

The Man Who Ate Everything, unlike the other books on my list, is a collection of essays about food. Some are related to one another and even in chronological order; most are neither. When reading, one is left with two impressions about Steingarten’s skill as a essayist: he is a brilliant investigative writer and he is damned funny. He takes little information at face value, preferring to research all information on any given subject. He was one of the first to observe the contradiction between the French fat-laden diet and France’s astonishingly low occurrence of heart disease, now known as the French Paradox.

Steingarten does not hesitate to punch holes in long accepted beliefs on diet and nutrition, after all he does far more research than many of the so-called experts. Often he takes the USDA to task for their lack of knowledge on health issues. More importantly, he underscores that though they have not done their homework, they still issue doctrine about what homo sapiens should and should not consume.

Among the myths he debunks are the unfounded beliefs that salt, alcohol or cholesterol cause heart disease. For instance: The French Paradox cannot be dismissed. It should have been noticed decades ago. And its contribution is to encourage researchers to discover the many other common causes of heart disease besides the saturated fat in our diets. The French Paradox is an embarrassment only to those nutritionists and physicians who had refused to recognize the obvious. We have known for some time that half of all heart attacks occur in people with average or low cholesterol, and that half of all people with high cholesterol never have heart attacks.

In addition to providing much fact-based insight, the author also does a wonderful job of painting pictures with words. His journeys to Italy, France, Asia and Tunisia leap off the page with metered narrative, but he is also very proficient (as Iron Chef: America fans can attest) at dry wit and one liners:

Miguel de Cervantes once wrote, “La major salsa del mundo es la hambre,” the best sauce in the world is the hunger. Cervantes had obviously never tasted ketchup.

I have little doubt that I will read this book again and again as it is packed with knowledge and wisdom. I am grateful that Steingarten traded jurisprudence for food writing. The world is lousy with lawyers and has precious few gastronomic writers.

Next I will conclude my summer reading list with Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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