It didn’t take long after commencing my endeavor to write about food – this blog – that I realized, to justify what I was doing, I needed to first cook a lot more than I used. But more importantly, I needed to read; read about food in all respects – its history, its present, and where the future lies.
So began my “learning” – not all informative and academic, but at time fun and relaxing – into food and drink, which I hope to carry on doing.
Learning about food was one aspect, but it was also the people behind it, the chefs in particular, that interested me, and reading some of the chef autobiographies proved to be quite an eye-opener in itself.
My education isn’t limited to books, of course. There are a lot many TV programs and documentaries that have helped me appreciate food better, and of course, the written word in the form of newspaper columns – Vir Sanghvi’s Rude Food has a plethora of information – add to that.
Off late, many food enthusiasts have started sharing their knowledge via chats and while many chefs can be found doing “demonstrations”, educators like Dr. Kurush F. Dalal hold talks – I recently attended Food Tales from Then and Now by him – which are essential if you want to know why we eat what we eat.
Coming back to the books, these 5 must-reads are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more to read about food out there, but to start, I chose the ones that I need not think twice about recommending.
Some are funny, some are educational, and some give you a better idea of what the food industry is all about.
A. A. Gill’s Table Talk and Sous Chef by Michael Gibney, two books I absolutely enjoyed, would appeal more to those that are either in the industry or hold a particular affiliation and affection towards it.
Table Talk is a compilation of Gill’s articles over the years, a food critic of notable importance, there’s a lot that can be learned from his writing and the unashamed, almost brash reviews of what and where he eats.
What caught my eye was the integrity and moral values with which he goes about his business of reviewing, and that’s something every food blogger in particular needs to think about.
Humour and wit are two essential ingredients in Gill’s book, which makes his thoughts and observations a lot easier to consume and appreciate, especially his feelings on world cuisines.
Table Talk by A. A. Gill is what food journalism should be, and if you’re thinking of getting into the business – be it as a restaurateur or a blogger or anything in-between – then you must give this one a read.
When it comes to must-haves, Sous Chef is essential for all aspiring chefs out there. A lot like Restaurant Babylon – although less gossipy and more to the point – Sous Chef by Michael Gibney is a day in the life of, you guessed it, smarty pants, a sous chef.
Gibney takes us behind the revolving doors to what goes on in the burning heat of commercial kitchens and the people responsible for what you eat.
His second-person narration, at times, can be irritating and might take a while to get used to, but as the day moves on and the chaos of service begins, one tends to forget everything else. We can’t help but root for the staff to overcome their last-minute tribulations and end the shift/day hopefully triumphantly.
Sous Chef is about people, the individuals who spend hours, many a time at the expense of family and relationships, to prepare something they hope will bring a smile to the face of those who consume their offerings.
I don’t think I have to sell The New Yorker’s Book of Food and Drink to you. I mean it is The New Yorker, after all, and it’s one of those thick books that look good on your bookshelf.
In fact, the cherry on top can be that it comes filled with the best articles on food and drink from the best there has been – featured in the magazine over the years.
While, once again, it might appeal a whole lot more to “foodies”, if you’re not one, you’ll be at a significant loss to overlook this charming, funny, exquisite, and eventually essential read. The book coalesces everything food in the form of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, humor, trends, nostalgia, spicy, sweet, warm, and cold.
It is also one of those books that you can go back to ever so often or else, like me, read it in parts, cherishing every bit of it slowly like a well-cooked meal.
Chillies and Porridge is food nostalgia at its best.
We all have fond childhood memories – unless you’re a child reading this, in which case maybe this can become a loving memory – and the book capitalizes on the past by combining together well-written “short” stories/chapters by a handful of notable Indians.
There’s Rocky & Mayur’s The Food Wicket, which talks about society cricket and how street food and community living was essential in shaping their friendship.
In Walks with Lyla, Niloufer Ichaporia King takes us through the narrow lanes that form Mumbai to give us an insight into the many markets dotted around the city serving functional ingredients and food.
Chitrita Banerji tells us all about that essential regional cooking utensil that is The Bengali Bonti. These are but some of the stories that for the essence of one of my favorite books from last year, Chillies and Porridge.
Darjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea happens to be my first book of the New Year, and it’s quite possibly the most well-rounded read about the region I have come across, not just limiting itself to tea.
The book manages to combine the history of Darjeeling with its present and even manages to give us a glimpse into the future while keeping its primary focus on tea.
Jeff Koehler occasionally romanticizes the region as if he was writing a travelogue and speaks as much about the commodity it is most famous for as about the people that inhabit and are responsible for manufacturing it.
His insider’s view into the making of tea right from the plantation stage till the time it is served up in homes, thanks due to the uninterrupted access he has to the many plantations and their managers, is what gives the book a gentle yet substantial flavoring.
Koehler gave the reader a beautiful account of the most loved and consumed drink in the country. We as a nation consume enormous amounts of tea, and it breaks any and all cast/religious/societal barriers. We also produce the best tea available in the world, and Darjeeling is a book that glorifies one of our biggest exports.
The more I think about it, the more I feel these books are essential reading material for everyone.
In their own way, the stories from these books speak of the special relationship humans share with food beyond it being a requirement to survive.
What makes these stories all the more interesting is the spotlight on people behind the scenes that work tirelessly to present us with culinary genius… and that makes all the difference in the end.