It Must've Been Something I Ate
Unlike Sandra, I'm not a foodie at heart. I don't have a bookcase full of cookbooks and food magazines and books on food, nor do I revel in trying out new recipes. We have a simple agreement: she cooks, I eat and that suits both of us (I hope). Therefore I only rarely attempt to read foodie books, as these inevitably descend into recipes and recipes do not make for good reading. And even if no recipes are included, foodie writing still tends to have that precious quality usually reserved for wine reviews.
Jeffrey Steingarten is an exception. I quite liked The Man Who Ate Everything, his previous book, so when Sandra bought this one, I thought to try it as well. It took me a while to get around to reading and in fact only did so when we were moving house and it was the only book available at the new house...
What I like about Steingarten is his honest enthusiasm about food, his willingness to experiment and his lack of snobism. He doesn't just eat and cook food, he is curious about all aspects of food preparation, going so far as to watch a pig being slaughtered, the old fashioned way, to cook blood sausage properly.
An appreciation of his writing style can be found in the following quote, describing the results of an attempt to make the perfect pizza, for which a temperature of some 900 degrees fahrenheit were needed, his oven could only handle 500 degrees, but by wrapping frozen towels around the thermostat it could be fooled into reaching higher temperatures:
"The results were brilliant," he writes, "especially in concept. My oven, believing incorrectly that its temperature was near the freezing point, went full blast until thick waves of smoke billowed from every crack, vent and pore, filling the house with the palpable signs of scientific success.
"Yes, the experiment had to be cut short, but it had lasted longer than the Wright brothers' first flight. Inside the oven was a blackened disc of dough pocked with puddles of flaming cheese. I had succeeded beyond all expectations."
After a while this mania for food gets a bit annoying, as does the breathless prose. There is something ineffably smug about his various projects; in the end his problems in getting the perfect pizza|caviar|bluefin tuna are just so many luxury problems, little to do with the real world. This doesn't matter in a single column, but an entire book of them does drive home the point that Steingarten has a much cooler life than you, forever jetting off to exotic locations to try another rare dish. Best to be read in small doses, but I'm incapable of doing so...
Webpage created 30-06-2005, last updated 25-10-2005