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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, June 22, 2003

Food Writers Offer Tase of Fine Dining Around the Globe

I have been dieting for the past three months, and though I am not particularly hungry, my interest in food has been magnified. I'm not talking cheeseburgers here, but the kind of gourmet food that is available only at restaurants I cannot afford and in library books that I can. Learning the art of fine cooking myself is not an option, and my wife doesn't seem interested in mastering haute cuisine.

I am happy to report that there is an abundance of well-written books on the subject of food. Many are a combination of memoir and recipes, while others are elegantly crafted journalistic essays.

A Return to Paris by Colette Rossant (Atria, 2003).

Rossant's mother was French, and her father was Egyptian. When she was a little girl, her father died, and her mother left her with her grandparents. She turned out to be a remarkably centered individual whose salvation must in large part be attributed to her love of food and her relationships with her grandparents' cooks.

The cooks in Rossant's life were named Georgette and Ahmet, and included in this captivating memoir are her favorite recipes from their kitchens. From them she learned how to prepare food, and from that she learned how to live.

Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser (Norton, 2003).

Mr. Latte is the name Hesser, a food columnist for The New York Times, gives her new date after he makes the gaffe of ordering a latte after a meal. If you're like me, you may have been unaware of the impropriety of such an act, but Hesser, the Miss Manners of food, is here to set us straight.

Actually, I enjoyed this book a great deal. It is written in a breezy manner and recounts her courtship and eventual marriage to Tad Friend, aka Mr. Latte, a writer for The New Yorker.

Hasser intersperses recipes from her favorite restaurants and her closest friends and relatives with her tale. Where she and her friends get the money to eat at these places I do not know, though I suspect some publishers might be picking up the tab.

Tad turns out to be a keeper who wins her over by cooking a gourmet meal of his own.

It Must've Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten (Knopf, 2002).

Steingarten is in a class by himself when it comes to food writers. Food critic for Vogue magazine, he is at once erudite, funny, scientific and positively obsessed by food.

This is the follow-up collection of articles to his bestselling first collection, The Man Who Ate Everything.

Steingarten will eat just about anything; he is even working on eating bugs. He is also an enthusiastic debunker of commonly held nutritional theories, such as the supposed evil properties of fat, salt, wheat, dairy products and monosodium glutamate. He approaches his arguments in a truly scientific manner by recruiting real scientists to test his hypotheses.

Vogue is apparently willing to send him all over the world for background for his articles and to pick up the tab at the world's greatest restaurants. This guy has the perfect job, though he claims he's making a big financial sacrifice by giving up his law practice.

Feeding a Yen by Calvin Trillin (Random House, 2003).

What makes Trillin different from the other food writers reviewed here is his common touch.

Though bankrolled by The New Yorker and Gourmet to pursue his gastronomic adventures, his food quarries are such mundane foodstuffs as bagels, pimentos and fish tacos.

Trillin is even funnier than Steingarten. A world-class humorist, his food writing is always amusing.

Oh, for a plateful of the delicacies described within these books! Then, to paraphrase the poet John Keats, I might eat, and leave the world unseen.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.