M.F.K Fisher striking a pose and displaying whatIt used to be that "food" writing was seen as a lesser form of writing; stories about food were relegated to the so-called "women's pages" - a euphemistic term that sounded okay but must have felt like a feminine ghetto. The notion of food writing getting real journalistic respect from the newspaper powers that be didn't happen often back in the day.
years of raw oyster slurping can do for your complexion.
years of raw oyster slurping can do for your complexion.
Today, this niche we call "food writing" has exploded. Food writers have emerged from their perceived literary backwaters and are taken more seriously, if not turned into outright celebrities. Elite few court fame and fortune, their gustatory turns of phrase capable of selling millions of books. Let's not forget, however, in this heyday of culinary prose, that each Anthony Bourdain and Ruch Reichl, every up and coming writer today follows in the popcorn trail of the A.J. Lieblings, M.F.K. Fishers, and Curnonskys. We all stand on the pens of those before us while they look up at us and our keyboards, tapping away and sending our words into the ether. What must they be thinking?
I enjoy nothing more than curling up with a good book. That's not true. I enjoy curling up with a good book on food, specifically, more than any other kind of book. I may eat my future proverbial Kindle someday but I hope I'm one of the last physical book hold outs, death grip on my Best Food Writing anthologies, the smell of actual paper in my nostrils, a shotgun laid, just so, across my lap.
I find tremendous inspiration in the words of my favorite writers and I dream at night for only an ounce of their abilities. Incredible food writing is, to me, a deadly good combination of acerbic wit, historical context, sharp commentary and lush sensory descriptions. When writers fire on all fronts the words leap off the page, dancing.
I posed a question on Twitter* the other day. Who is your favorite food writer and why? There were no rules, no restrictions and I even allowed people to email me back if 140 characters felt too limiting. The writer could be living, dead, famous or not. The range of responses I got was as diverse as the people who took the time to answer. Their answers fascinated me and I hope they inspire you to learn about a new food writer or reminisce about one of your well-worn favorites.
Matt Wright @WrightEats
Grumpy Glutton @GrumpyGlutton
Liz David, was a food writer who emerged after WW2. Known for her complete lack of tact, her cattiness, and her complete commitment to good food, proper technique, and taking the time and focus needed to create good food. She preferred rural rustic preparations over fanciful food served at the Michelin stared restaurants that it seemed like she would get dragged to whilst traveling through France.
Her writing is edgy, witty, constantly hilarious, scathing of shortcuts and workarounds. She has such a way with words that each recipe, each story is so vividly described a photograph would honestly do it an injustice.
Her books are more than just cookbooks, they are complete, vivid travel stories. Perfect books to both cook from, and relax on a beach with.
Bourdain is my favorite food writer because he is, at different turns, outrageously funny (body w/ fake wounds made from food in walk-in, Kitchen Confidential) and poignant (going to France in an emotion search for his late father, Cook's Tour). When the food is bad, his writing makes me nauseous (many examples in CT, incl. tete au veau and pretty much any Asian dish that makes a man "strong"). When the food is good, his writing makes me salivate, not to mention, hungry (again, many examples in CT, incl. the meals with his boss's family in Portugal, in Basque country, with his cooks' families in Mexico and, of course, French Laundry). And, he writes with an incredible sense of place. I first experienced wanting to be transported to a particular time and place when I read Graham Greene's The Quiet American, a book Bourdain references. Bourdain imparts the same sense about Saigon as did Greene, albeit for a different era. Bourdain does the same to me for Fez, for Portugal, for the Basque region, for the islands off Vietnam's coast.Shauna James Ahern @glutenfreegirl
I love Edna Lewis for her plainspoken language. Her descriptions of food are connected to her memories, so each word is the right word. "And when we share again in gathering wild strawberries, canning, rendering lard, finding walnuts, picking persimmons, making fruitcake I realize how much the bond that held us had to do with food." [Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking] I love Anthony Bourdain's unabashed "fuck you" attitude toward everything in life. He's honest, so you can't be mad. He knows his food. I love how Laurie Colwin invites you into her messy kitchen and welcoming dining nook. Sit down and listen to stories. Comfort food.
Jake Kosseff @Jake Kosseff
Craig Claiborne because I learned to cook using one of his New York Times Cookbooks, and have a warm, sentimental feeling about his writing. He was witty, and urbane and treated food like a worthy pursuit, and was snobby in a very inclusive and fun way.
Kairu Yao @Kairu
I was probably in third grade when my mother bought me a copy of Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! I had read the earlier books and was totally hooked, but this one was different. All the mysteries had to do with food (starting with, if memory serves, a missing birthday cake and a loaf of garlic bread). To celebrate the successful conclusion of every mystery (for when did Encyclopedia ever fail to catch the culprit?), Encyclopedia and his friends would get together and throw a party, cooking up a feast to match the case. (...)
Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! (taught me) practical things, common-sense things like using potholders, asking grownups for help, turning the handle of a pan away from the edge of the stove so you couldn't knock it over. It taught me words like dice, chop, mince. Above all, I learned to chop an onion, and every time I reach for one now (some twenty years later) I think about Encyclopedia Brown and his friends, and what I learned from them. (...)
A few years later I discovered Gourmet Magazine, and Laurie Colwin, who remains one of my greatest influences. Much later came the gently acerbic guidance of Elizabeth David, and then Jeffrey Steingarten, who made me laugh until I cried, and Anthony Bourdain, and countless others. But it all started with Encyclopedia Brown, and the proper way to chop an onion.
Jacquelyn Kiszewski @amantedellapa
Laurie Colwin had me at the word, ‘eggplant’. I’m referring to her essay from the book, HOME COOKING: "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant". What woman, in her Barbie-Sized first apartment hasn’t attempted a small dinner party under less than optimal conditions? But mostly, it was the way she spoke to me about dining solo; an experience most single women have for the first time when they move to the big city. After reading Laurie, I didn’t feel quite so alone…Gwen Ashley Walters @ChefGwen
I love Alan Richman's voice because he can be biting without being smug. I love his voice because he writes with authority and confidence as a professional eater. He honestly and openly proclaims that he doesn't cook. And he's quick to call chefs on the carpet for not eating the food they are cooking.Porche Lovely @LC_Denver
I like Jason Sheehan from Denver's Westword.Marilyn Naron @simmertilldone
Waverley Root. "The Food of France" (& Italy) sweeps what food is made of - land, history, language, people. MFK Fisher elevated everyday, Laurie Colwin deceptively humble everyday. Both speak to heart & mouth.Ron Zimmerman @Herbguy
Richard Olney, A. J. Liebling, Roy Andries de GrootRebecca Staffel @rstaffel
AJ Liebling, Colette Rossant, Colman Andrews, Barry Estabrook, Ruth Reichl, M. Ruhlman, Bourdain, Colwin, MFK Fisher.Don @foodiePrints
At the moment, my favourite is Anthony Bourdain...the man is a gifted writerMarie McKinsey @mylefthip
Ruth Reichl gets my one of my votes for fav food writerSarah @jo_jo_ba
I really like Bourdain's stuff so far.Lisa Kennelly @LisaKennelly
I love Laurie Colwin. She made me laugh, but it's bittersweet too because she passed away so young.Naomi Bishop @gastrognome
Bourdain squeezes himself reassuringly around the middle to simulate
that time he had a 10 foot tapeworm living in his gut from an ill-advised
snack of tepid skewered unidentifiables on a train to Saigon.
Calvin Trillin and Bourdain- both see the absurdity in everything, yet still embrace finding basic but delish foods.Michael Eriksson @swedishmike
If it's food writing and not 'recipe writing' it's gotta be Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.Leslie Seaton @FreshPickedSEA
J. Steingarten. C. Trillin is one of my faves, & this article on Shopsin's still stands out as one of my favorite pieces ever.Larry Liang @DJPegLeg
This may be somewhat cliche but I really love Ruth Reichl and Michael Ruhlman's writing.Jennifer Heigl @dailyblender
Moehringer's 'The Tender Bar' really spoke to me. But more drinking, less food.Lorna Yee @lornayee
Steingarten. Find his pseudo self-deprecating writing most entertaining esp. when contrasted w/ know-it-all comments on Iron Chef.Dana Cree @deensie
I hate to love Jeffery Steingarten. I know, he's pompous and outright sexist at times. But his writing is great.Hungrygrrl @hungrygrrl
I love how anal Jeffrey Steingarten is, roasting chickens again and again. Definitely can be a snob. Somehow love that too. Love Colwin and Reichl for their warmth, Fisher for her poeticism. (Also) Jay McInerney on wine. Love the image of a mellow paul mcartney-like merlot balancing a tough john lennon cab.
Thank you to everyone who submitted. If you didn't get a chance to, please feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section. I think I speak for everyone when I say how inspiring it is to hear about what we love about great writing and great writers.
*a note on the wonderful and wacky world of Twitter...
Say what you will about Twitter. Say that it will surely cause more and more people to shutter themselves indoors to interface with a lifeless computer screen or to bury their heads in their phones while on buses, at dining tables, or (horrors) when their lover isn't looking. Say that it is anti-social on one extreme, or pathetically and unnecessarily self-revealing at the other.
I'm not denying that there is truth within these accusations. Oh hell, there is more than a modicum of truth within these accusations. At the least, Twitter can be a monumental time suck of gigantic proportions. But anti-social? I beg to differ. In the last few months, I've made many new friends on Twitter from Australia, Canada, England, New York, San Francisco, and Portland. I've gone to the houses of two people I met through Twitter, planned a Scrabble game (just this morning), helped someone eat some donuts just out of the fryer (alerted on Twitter), and shared some cocktails with someone that I met through Twitter, someone who gave me excellent advice for when I have to kill those ducks in September.