25 tasty and tantalizing food memoirs

Luisa Weiss launched The Wednesday Chef to document her goal of cooking her way through her massive recipe collection. Living in New York at the time, she never stopped longing for home in Berlin and this is her account of how she finally decided to move back and all that ensued from there.
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World-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson went from helping in his grandmother's kitchen to cooking in some of the most cut-throat restaurants in the world. Ethiopian and adopted by a white Swedish family when he was three, he shares how his Scandinavian heritage influenced his cooking style, as well as how he ultimately drew in African influences and advocates for recognition of African cuisine. He shares honestly about the ups and downs of the food world and how it made him the person he is today. Ruth Reichl praises this one as "Such an interesting life, told with touching modesty and remarkable candor."
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You may recognize Kwame Onwuachi's name from his stint on Top Chef. But before that, he started his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway in NYC and worked in notable restaurants across the country. By age 27, not only had he competed on Top Chef, he served dinner to Present Obama at the White House and closed his fine dining restaurant shortly after opening it. He's honest about his mistakes but he also delves into the racism he's experienced in the various kitchens he’s worked in. His voice is a welcome addition to the food memoir canon.
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After her father died, Molly Wizenburg didn’t know what to do with herself. So she went to Paris, and later, she started a blog. No spoilers here, so let’s just say I especially loved hearing about how the internet introduced the author to new, life-changing relationships. This memoir made me laugh, cry, check airfare to Paris, and curse my low carb diet. Completely and utterly charming, accompanied by tasty recipes.
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From the publisher: "Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook—and eat—a meal from every country in the world. Witty, warm, and poignant, food blogger Sasha Martin's memoir about cooking her way to happiness and self-acceptance is a culinary journey like no other. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother, to a string of foster homes, to the house from which she launched her own cooking adventure, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures."
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When Ruth Reichl takes the plum job of New York Times food critic, she’s determined to let ordinary diners know what the city’s great restaurants are really like. What's so hard about that? But she soon discovers that the Times food critic is no ordinary diner: her headshot adorns the wall of every kitchen in the city so the staff can spot her—and wow her. Not you. So Reichl goes undercover, enlisting the help of an old theater friend to become a sultry blond, a gregarious redhead, and a tweedy brunette, each with her own backstory. Her mission: to experience the city's great restaurants as just another diner. A fascinating read for any foodie, or student of human nature.
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From the publisher: "Since its publication in 2007, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has captivated readers with its blend of memoir and journalistic investigation. When Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from suburban Arizona to rural Appalachia, they took on a new challenge: to spend a year on a locally-produced diet, paying close attention to the provenance of all they consume. Concerned about the environmental, social, and physical costs of American food culture, they hoped to recover what Barbara considers our nation's lost appreciation for farms and the natural processes of food production. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a modern classic that will endure for years to come."
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Where others would see a long-abandoned property as a lost cause, Tara Austen Weaver saw promise. Through the course of fixing the house and overhauling the expansive garden and orchard, she and her mother learn to reconnect. As the garden blooms with the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors, so does their relationship. Reading this will make you want a garden of your own.
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If you're the type that tends to over-romanticize the City of Lights, let David Lebovitz snap you back to reality. As an American expat who chose to move to France, he loves Paris—but he also has no qualms about exposing the ridiculous, baffling, and frustrating side of le France. (I still laugh when I think of his claim that he didn't REALLY feel like he belonged until the day he put on dress pants and a freshly ironed shirt to take out the trash). Lebovitz's niche is food writing, and while you'll hear plenty of stories of navigating the city, you'll also find food on nearly every page. Plan to be inspired to make (or at least eat) French favorites like warm goat cheese salad, chocolate mousse, and macarons. A perfect read for those who have lived in Paris, been to Paris, or just want a good laugh.
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You find out at the very beginning that Tembi Locke's husband died young. Locke sets out to tell a story of how she fell in love with her husband though perhaps they didn't look on the surface like they belong together because of race, class, and culture; how they overcame a lot to be together; why he meant everything to her; why losing him was so painful for her; and why it's a story that needed to be told. Locke does a great job telling how she found him, how food and chance brought them together. His Sicilian family was not wild about him marrying an African-American woman from America and that splintered the family for many years and seemed like would break them forever. She shows how love and perserverance really did conquer all. This was beautiful; I'm glad I read it. If you love grief memoirs—and I'm not saying that ironically, some people really truly do—I thought this was excellent.
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Writer Madhur Jaffrey is well-known for cookbooks and here she invites readers into learning about her upbringing in Delhi. Family dinners consisted of 40 or more relatives gathered together over flavorful dishes that impacted the way Jaffrey sees food. But she was also impacted by Partition, which tore her family's world apart. Her most enduring food memories are connected to the land: climbing mango trees, sampling street fare, and more, making for a unique and memorable read.
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Child was 36 when her husband's job necessitated a move to Paris a few years after WWII. This is the story of how she fell in love with the city and its cuisine—and it all began with the restlessness she experienced upon arrival. Child found herself at loose ends in the city, with no job or other obligations, and so began she began shopping the French markets, falling in love with the French approach to food, and finally enrolling in cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. This joyful memoir is full of life: Julia’s tales will entertain, inspire, and make you laugh out loud.
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I’ve adored Reichl’s food writing in the past, but if I wasn’t a devoted Gourmet magazine reader, would I be interested in reading the book aptly subtitled “My Gourmet Memoir”? The answer: YES!! Pure delight from start to finish.
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While shopping one night, Le Cordon Bleu grad Flinn bumps into a woman whose cart is filled with hyper-processed food. They strike up a conversation, and it turns out the woman simply can’t cook. Following this grocery store epiphany, Flinn collects 9 volunteers--all non-cooks--for weekly cooking lessons, and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is born. Flinn’s belief in the power of home cooking is contagious, and her foundational (and fantastic) recipes might just change the way you cook.
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In his new memoir, foodie, food writer, and former New Yorker fiction editor Buford shares another first-hand account of his time in the kitchen. In a quest to deepen his culinary training, Buford and his wife, wine expert Jessica Green, move to France with their twin three-year-old boys. They intended to stay for six months so Buford could cook, but after settling in Lyon they extended their visit—and stayed for five years. A lush, detailed, and vividly drawn account of esteemed French kitchens, and the culture that makes their grand food possible.
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I love foodie memoirs and have been meaning to read this essay collection for years. When Will and I visited a bookstore devoted exclusively to cookbooks and cooking books in Chicago last week, this was my impulse buy. I started it immediately and loved it so much. Colwin's chatty style is funny and endearing, and the book is so slim—and so enjoyable—I finished it in an afternoon. I'll be reading more of Colwin's work. Highly recommended for fans of Ruth Reichl and Molly Weizenberg.
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I knew of Achatz (chef at Chicago's Alinea) but I didn't know the whole story. I knew that in 2003, the James Beard Foundation named Achatz Rising Star Chef of the Year; in 2006, Gourmet Magazine named Alinea the best restaurant in America. But I didn't know that in 2007, Achatz was diagnosed with late-stage tongue cancer, and the treatment plan left the chef with no sense of taste–an irony his business partner Kokonas dubbed "Shakespearean." (Thankfully, his sense of taste later returned.) This memoir describes Achatz's path to founding Alinea from his childhood family-restaurant days, and his battle with tongue cancer. I could hardly put it down. (Warning: there's a little salty language.)
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As a foodie memoir devotee, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Journalist Ann Mah moves to Paris when her diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment there. She's overjoyed at the opportunity until he's reassigned to Iraq for a year-long solo stint and must figure out life in Paris on her own. And so she does, one pain au chocolat and boeuf Bourguignon at a time.
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In the span of a few weeks, former New Yorker editor Emily Nunn grieves the death of her brother, her fiance breaks up with her, and she's evicted from their apartment. She pours her heart out on Facebook and is stunned by the many friends and family members who invite her to stay with them while she figures out what's next. She seeks treatment for alcoholism and then begins her Comfort Food Tour. Wherever she stays, they talk about the role of food in our lives and try different recipes. Comfort food can't heal all wounds but it, along with people who love us, can get us started.
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