Foodies everywhere were hit hard by the recent death of literary editor and general gourmet Judith Jones. By publishing such cooking luminaries as Julia Child, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, and Claudia Roden, she forever changed U.S. cuisine, expanding the country’s palette to match its unique diversity. (She also changed hearts by first publishing Anne Frank’s memoir in English.) In recent years, she wrote books of her own, each told through the irresistible lens of meals she’d made and savored; The Pleasures of Cooking for One is especially wonderful. But I also recommend these other terrific chef memoirs, all of which might never have come into being had Jones not taught us to prioritize eating joyously and consciously.
Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
What better place to start than with Julia Child herself? Published in 2006 (two years after her death), this lively and loving memoir traces how the native Californian learned to cook and appreciate food as a young military wife stationed in Paris. And, yes, it’s one of the books adapted to screen for Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia.” (The other is Julie Powell’s eponymous memoir.)
The Making of a Counterculture Cook
As carefully curated as a meal at Alice Waters’s groundbreaking farm-to-table Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, this autobiography is all the more delightful for the author’s candor about her many missteps in the trajectory from New Jersey automat lover to culinary superstar. As a happy bonus, the book is nearly as much a valentine to cinema as it is to food.
Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers
From his early struggles as an Ethiopian orphan to his marriage to model Maya Haile and meals cooked for the Obamas, Marcus Samuelsson’s whole story is a fascinating study in the power of self-possession. By the time you finish it, you may think the least noteworthy thing about him is that he put New York City restaurant Aquavit on the map.
James Beard Award winner Barbara Lynch breaks down how all her challenges – ADD, dyslexia, addiction, sexual confusion, being raised in a rough Boston neighborhood by a single mom with six kids and three jobs – uniquely prepared her for the stressful, male-dominated world of high cuisine. This memoir is as blunt and brilliant as Lynch herself.
She’s a model, chef, “Top Chef” host, and former wife of literary superstar Salman Rushdie. It’s almost not fair that the Madras-raised Padma Lakshmi also can write, but write she can. In fact, she “tells all” – including the story of the dissolution of her marriage and struggles with endometriosis and certain difficult colleagues – so lyrically that I almost found myself feeling bad for one of the most beautiful women in the world. Almost.
Chances are good you’ve laughed uproariously at the TV show by this name. But would you believe its literary antecedent is even funnier and saltier? Florida-raised by Taiwanese restaurateurs (his dad ran a series of surf-and-turf joints), Eddie Huang is known for his street-food eatery Baohaus, his VICE TV show “Huang’s World,” and his general irreverence. True to course, this hip hop-inflected memoir takes no prisoners.
The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Oh, this memoir is so eminently satisfying. Raised in Pennsylvania back country and the owner of New York City’s highly touted, marrow-rich Prune restaurant, Gabrielle Hamilton is all about letting ingredients speak for themselves, whether in the kitchen or on the page. As she shares her life as a cook, adventuress, and bisexual woman, she never lets us forget the details are where all the juicy stuff lives.
As a writer, you could say Molly Wizenberg is first and foremost a blogger – her extemporaneous style scored her food blog Orangette accolades galore – but that flow-of-consciousness candor works beautifully in this memoir about the Seattle pizza joint she launched with her music composer husband, Brandon. Complete with photos, recipes, and gory relationship details, the author (who also wrote the bestselling A Homemade Life) is living proof that it’s hard to hide anything for long in the heat of the kitchen.