Nonfiction November: Anyone up for some foodie nonfiction?


So, it’s Week Two of Nonfiction November! Regular Rumination is hosting this week and this is the topic:

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Ok I didn’t know where to go with this one!

Am I an expert at something? These days the only thing I’m good at is reading while ignoring taking care of my two young fellas.

I tend to read all over the place! But as I sat down and took a long look at my Goodreads ‘read’ and ‘nonfiction’ categories, I realized that one nonfiction topic I have read quite a bit about is food.


Yeah so food is a rather big topic in itself. There are books on different countries’ cooking and food. (Links are to my posts on the books. I have read all the books I’m mentioning here, but have not written about all of them). For instance, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen or Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food–Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal by Mark Kurlansky or To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China by Audra Ang. Or books on ingredients, like Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. Or even on the instruments that we use to eat and cook our food, such as Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson.

Sometimes the book aims for a more unique angle like 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander, who hones his bread making skills rather passionately.

Or this one about allergies, which I first read when I found out my son was allergic to several foods (wheat, milk, peanuts and tree nuts. He’s since outgrown the first two but is still allergic to peanuts and tree nuts): Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley.

Or for those interested in culinary traditions, especially those of European immigrants, a look into life of five families in a New York tenement in the mid-1800s through the food they cooked and ate, in 97 Orchard: An Edible History of five Immigrant Families in one New York Tenement.

But then I realize that perhaps one sub-topic that might interest you all, at least it does me, is the chef-memoir or anything related to restaurants. I love to eat out. A skill I first honed in Singapore, a city-state covered with restaurants, high-end and low-end. In this tiny island you get restaurants by Joel Robuchon, Jamie Oliver, Guy Savoy, Daniel Boulud, Tetsuya Wakuda. And it’s got restaurants making the World’s Best list. Not too shabby for an island nation that runs 50 km (31 miles) east to west and 26 km (16 miles) north to south. So perhaps it is understandable that Singaporeans are big foodies (to be honest there’s nothing all that much to do if you’re not really into shopping and partying. I wasn’t.) There’s nothing like searching out that next hot dining establishment. Sometimes living in the suburbs of Northern California, I miss that. Sure there’s plenty of good food here too but it’s so very spread out! Excuses excuses (young children excuses) I know. So yes, I have only made it to a handful of good restaurants here. Perhaps the meal that has stood out the most would be my lunch at the French Laundry (in case you are interested, photos and details are in this post).

Anyway let’s get back to the books! For it seems that I have read more than a handful of chef memoirs and other books written about life in the kitchen!

There are the celebrity chefs:

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – Gabrielle Hamilton
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson

And going behind the scenes of a kitchen at a restaurant:
Sous Chef

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
The amazing Michael Ruhlman has written quite a few books on this, although I’ve only read (I think! it was a while ago!) the first one:

The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America
The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection
The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen

The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine by Rudolph Chelminski just tore me apart. This is the story of one of the top chefs in France, Bernard Loiseau, and the madness of Michelin star perfection.

And of course there is the ever-present Anthony Bourdain and his fun reads:


The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – this one is my favourite!
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

And when there are restaurants, there will be critics, which is where books by critics come in handy:

Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess by New York magazine food critic Gael Greene. Which I only gave 3 stars on Goodreads, although I can’t remember why.

Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life by Mimi Sheraton

Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic and editor of Gourmet, wrote quite a few memoirs:
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way

and even a work of fiction that is set at an about-to-go-bust food magazine, Delicious!
And an interesting insight to getting that ‘fourth star’ from the New York Times from the view of a restaurant, its owner and its staff.

The Fourth Star: Dispatches from Inside Daniel Boulud’s Celebrated New York Restaurant by Leslie Brenner

Alright, so that’s probably far more information than you will ever need on this topic, I hope! Thanks for indulging me!

But I’d like to know, what’s your favourite foodie read? 


  1. I’ve been wanting read some of these books because they look fantastic. The last foodie memoir I really enjoyed was Delancey by Molly Wizenberg which was an account of how she opened a restaurant with her husband when they both had no experience in the restaurant business. A lot of detailed and mouth-watering discussions about pizza are in the book!


    1. Ah Julia Child. I guess she never really figured in my life as I have never ever seen an episode of her shows or read her cookbooks. But I did recently borrow a children’s picture book about her life in France !


  2. WOW–what an excellent list! I love reading about food and cooking and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of these–the Michael Ruhlman books are amazing (that first one is the best of them!) and I also really liked Sous Chef, Don’t Kill The Birthday GIrl, and Blood Bones & Butter. I wrote a post about by own favorite books in this area awhile back–here’s the link if you’d like to take a look:


  3. Great topic! I love food and cooking and love reading about them too. I’ve got a food/cooking books list on my blog. I loved Kitchen Confidential and Michael Ruhlman’s work is amazing. I also read Sous Chef and Yes, Chef…didn’t love those as much. I need to read some Gael Greene and The Fourth Star sounds interesting….I hear the Michelin Star process is very political and backstabbing…juicy reading!

    My Be the Expert post was on the Kennedys.


  4. I’ve read very few books about food (maybe just Salt, by the same author as Cod), but I’d really like to read more, especially if I could pair it with cooking some food from the book. It seems like it could make for some fun reading!


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