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Thursday, December 2

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Review Fri Jun 11 2010

Better Living Through Eating

spoon fed credit Riverhead Books(3).jpgKim Severson's journey from slinging pizza at a Little Caesar's in Michigan to writing about food for the New York Times was full of the struggles that most successful people only speak of in private moments on a therapist's couch--an addiction to alcohol that started in her teenage years, difficulties with coming out as a lesbian, and finding her place in a profession dominated by legendaries--several of whom she befriends and is mentored by in her new memoir Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life (Riverhead, $25.95).

Severson has a self-deprecating charm that cleverly frames her retellings of traipsing around New York's Greenmarket with Alice Waters, who comes to Severson's Brooklyn home to make lunch and to her hostess' horror, the famous chef and advocate is greeted by the smell of chicken nuggets and french fries cooking in the toaster oven. Severson endlessly compares herself with Ruth Reichl, and finds that even the glamorous, storied editor of the departed Gourmet magazine, who once famously gave LeCirque a controversial three-star review for their snobby service, has her own personal demons. Severson also tells the heartwarming story of the late chef and author Edna Lewis, whose legendary cooking deemed her "the Julia Child of the South," and Scott Peacock, a fellow chef who at 47 years her junior was a loving caretaker who boiled her coffee each morning and put her to bed each night in her final days.

Finally, Severson talks about her own mother, a solid chef who spent every Sunday slaving over a pot of red sauce. Despite her knowledge of all things hot and gauche in the cooking world, the daughter who has Rachael Ray's number on speed-dial and travels to her mother's ancestral village in Italy to trace the origins of her sauce ingredients cannot competently reproduce family recipes on her own: "My sauce never tastes like hers, but I keep trying. And maybe that's the problem. Perhaps I'm too fixated on my fancy-pants ingredients. Or perhaps it's just a psychological quirk of the kitchen. The one that makes you think nothing you cook ever tastes as good as your mother's."

Spoon Fed is a juicy read for the foodie outsiders who fantasize about affording a meal at Chez Panisse, and to those looking to think about the bigger lessons that life teaches us. Severson's bravery in revealing her shortcomings and gratitude for the many wonderful turns her life has taken makes for a very accessible, enjoyable read. Over the phone, Severson (who is equally as engaging and friendly in person as she comes across in print) admits she was uncomfortable writing about herself, but eventually realized that she had to "put on her big girl panties" and get over the awkwardness that comes with being candid about yourself on paper. Most food-related memoirs only get whimsical when baby lettuce is described; Spoon Fed admirably takes on a range of subjects both personal and public, gentle and tough, snout-to-tail.

Severson finds that the most important life lessons "are delivered in the kitchen, given to me by women who made their families dinner every night." While some may think Severson is going backwards by embracing the women whose "office is their kitchen," we have to be real about who and what really teaches us to be the people we are--the words that call us to the table for dinner, the struggles we face, and the gratitude we have for being cared for and nurtured. Not all of us have idyllic upbringings marked by dinners of organic vegetables and grass-fed beef: I loved my mother's kitchen and the food she made there, even if we ate frozen chicken nuggets and oven fries several nights a week. I'm sure Alice Waters will understand.


Kim Severson appears at the Good Eating Stage at the Printers Row Literary Festival on Saturday, 3pm in conversation with Chicago Tribune food writer Bill Daley.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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