It looks like the next week, and hopefully weeks, are going to be hot and sunny across British Columbia. It’s time for the beach, your deck, or maybe just some air conditioned comfort. Because when it gets too hot to move, one of the best things to do is relax with a good book. When I relax with a book, of course it usually has something to do with food, and as I prepare to take a couple of weeks off, I’m willing to share my reading list with you.
Over the summer I like to leave most of the cookbooks on the shelf except when searching for some inspiration after shopping for the produce of the season, but otherwise I want something that will keep my whole attention occupied for chapters at a time. That includes non-fiction and fiction and this week I have curated a short list for foodies, as well as for kids who are interested in food.
A foodie friend of mine highly recommended The Third Plate, Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber. She said this takes the books of food journalist Michael Pollan to another level. Pollan of course, is famous for his books called the Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, in which he urges us to get closer to a simpler food life, but The Third Plate goes to the source of food we get from farms. Dan Barber is an award-winning chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Pocatino Hills just north of New York City. He describes “first plate” as a classic meal centered on meat with few vegetables. But he says many people are now eating from the “second plate,” the new ideal of organic, grass-fed meats and local vegetables. Barber says neither of those plates supports the long-term productivity of the land. His “third plate” is a new pattern of eating rooted in cooking with and celebrating the whole farm—an integrated system of vegetable, grain, and livestock production. So I’m really interested in reading that and seeing how he addresses the question of ‘whole farms’ being able to support our urban populations and whether farmers’ markets are seen as a help or a hindrance to his system.
The Third Plate spends a lot of time on the farm, something that takes us into a kitchen is Sous Chef, 24 Hours on the Line, by Michael Gibney. This book is not quite Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential in that it’s not an autobiography. But the 24 hours in the kitchen of Gibney unfolds in second person narrative…so it puts YOU in the kitchen, experiencing everything that hardworking chefs go through behind the scenes at a breakneck pace in this fictional day that is based on the years of experience Gibney has had working at every single station in a kitchen from dishwasher up to chef.
I think ever since we started getting chef-centred shows on the Food Network, and then branching out onto other networks, young people have started viewing being a chef as quite a glamorous career, especially when you see how rich and famous chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain have become. So we’ve seen more chef schools opening, enrolments going up…but I think a book like Sous Chef should be required reading so people know exactly what they are getting into if they decide the kitchen is a place for their career.
Sous Chef is a dose of reality for young adults, so for a good taste of food in fiction,I’ve just started reading the Neil Flambé series by Kevin Sylvester. People may remember Kevin as a sports host here on CBC Radio and he still turns up from time to time on network radio, but Kevin is also a very good artist and has a flair for a good mystery as well, based on his creation, Neil Flambé, a 14-year old chef who has people lined up to get into this restaurant. Not only is he a good chef, but he also likes to solve mysteries in his spare time. The first book of the series is called ‘Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders’, it opens with Marco Polo on his deathbed in Venice, then swoops ahead to the present to the theft of Marco Polo’s secret notebook, then straight to Neil’s restaurant where he is berating a fish monger on the phone for delivering a stinky salmon to him. And that’s all within the first few pages. I’m certainly not a young adult any more but I think I’m going to be hooked on Neil Flambé.
In turn, Kevin Sylvester has recommended another young adult novel that has today (July 10th) as it’s publication date and it sounds like a lot of fun. It’s called ‘All Four Stars’ by Tara Daiman. Here’s the synopsis: All Four Stars chronicles the adventures of 11-year old Gladys Gatsby, who, thanks to an unlikely series of events, suddenly becomes a professional good critic for a major New York City newspaper. Sounds like fun to me!
Want something a little more racy? Just in time for the summer comes another Inspector Montalbano mystery from the pen of Italian writer Andrea Camilleri called Angelica’s Smile. This time our inspector gets seduced over dinner by the Angelica in the title. And I have one more book for you that gives you some good reading as well as a bunch of Italian recipes. Donna Leon is the author of the Inspector Brunetti series of mysteries, set in Venice. Food always plays a role in the Brunetti family life and eventually people started demanding that Donna Leon supply the recipes for the meals described in her books.
So, Brunetti’s Cookbook is a fantastic collection of recipes put together by Roberta Pianaro, interspersed with culinary stories from the chapters of Leon’s books. I love it, and I’ve made several recipes from this book already.
On another note, Vancouver Island’s Andrew Shepherd is in the running for a $100,000 business grant from in The Globe and Mail’s Small Business Challenge Contest. He can really use this money to grow his Vancouver Island Salt Company and he is one of four semi-finalists from across the country and you can vote for him right here.