Welcome to Summer Reads 2017 where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
This week’s Summer Reads pick is a “can’t-put-down-able” book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Amy Thielen’s evocative memoir brought me into some of New York’s finest restaurant kitchens but also to the peaceful life in an off-the-grid cabin in the woods of Minnesota where Thielen originally discovers her love for food and cooking. The novel starts in the craziness of the New York food scene where she arrives fresh off of a U-Haul truck in which she drove from Minnesota with her boyfriend, moves back to Thielen’s childhood and coming of age then winds its way back to present, offering an interesting (and, some might say, unlikely) path where the outcome isn’t the predictable “rural girl moves to the big city and opens her own restaurant, making it big”.
Overview (from the publisher):
Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City’s finest kitchens—for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten—she grew up in a northern Minnesota town home to the nation’s largest French fry factory, the headwaters of the fast food nation, with a mother whose generous cooking dripped with tenderness, drama, and an overabundance of butter.
Inspired by her grandmother’s tales of cooking in the family farmhouse, Thielen moves north with her artist husband to a rustic, off-the-grid cabin deep in the woods. There, standing at the stove three times a day, she finds the seed of a growing food obsession that leads her to the sensory madhouse of New York’s top haute cuisine brigades. But, like a magnet, the foods of her youth draw her back home, where she comes face to face with her past and a curious truth: that beneath every foie gras sauce lies a rural foundation of potatoes and onions.
Amy Thielen’s coming-of-age story pulses with energy, a cook’s eye for intimate detail, and a dose of dry Midwestern humor. Give a Girl a Knife offers a fresh, vivid view into New York’s high-end restaurants before returning Thielen to her roots, where she realizes that the marrow running through her bones is not demi-glace but gravy—thick with nostalgia and hard to resist.
I’m a sucker for any memoir about food and especially restaurant-based memoirs. I guess it comes from getting that fly-on-the-wall perspective of a place where I would never find myself – a way to live out that “I wonder what it would be like to work in a restaurant kitchen” daydream (answer: not for me at all – but I digress). I was immediately drawn into this story because it doesn’t start, predictably, at the beginning; rather, it puts you in, with Thielen, at the deep end, in the kitchens of the prestigious Danube restaurant. Her path isn’t easy (if you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a restaurant chef, this may well change your mind), but what comes across in every setting she’s working with food is her absolute passion and her ability to be inspired by her surroundings (no matter how challenging).
I found the first half of the book fast-paced with a lot of action and wondered, as the story retreated back to rural Minnesota, if it might be a little slow and a less appealing read than the first half. In fact, this was not the case and the second half of the book gives the reader so much insight into Theilen’s “culinary point of view” (to borrow an over-used Food Network term) and pays true homage to the cooking of her grandmother and mother before her as well as her native Minnesota – their way of life in the cabin is slow living and cooking at its best. I am not normally a fan of books where the action shifts back and forth in time but found this narrative easy-to-follow (the two parts are so very distinctive) and the difference in pace in each section complements the other so very well (more of either pace might have been too much).
Thielen writes beautifully, descriptively and if you’re like me, you’ll devour this book in one or two sittings. Sure it’s a great beach read, but it’s one that works just as well if you’re cozied up on a sofa in front of a fire on a cold winter’s day. Love food? Fascinated by the restaurant world? Appreciate great writing? This book is for you!
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received a copy of “Give a Girl a Knife” for review purposes from the publisher. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions 100% my own.
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