WE FED AN ISLAND by Jose Andres

March 11, 2020


The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time

Also written by Richard Wolffe (co-author)

From the publisher:

The true story of how a group of chefs fed hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans after Hurricane Maria and touched the hearts of many more

Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world.

Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone. At the same time, they also confronted a crisis with deep roots, as well as the broken and wasteful system that helps keep some of the biggest charities and NGOs in business.

Based on Andrés’s insider’s take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, We Fed an Island movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future.

Beyond that, a portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chef Relief Network of World Central Kitchen for efforts in Puerto Rico and beyond.

This was an upsetting and eye-opening read. It is also an important one; we need to learn from our mistakes. Not that the current president would ever admit to making one. I’m not going to get too political here, but only because Chef Andres does it way better than I possibly could. In case you’ve forgotten, this book is about the rescue efforts after the devastating hurricane nearly destroyed the island of Puerto Rico.

Chef Andres pulls no punches and he names names. In fact, there is an entire chapter about the incompetence of the Red Cross alone. But they are not the only ones to blame. It all starts, and ends, with FEMA and the current administration.

“We knew that downed communications and electricity would make life difficult, but Puerto Rico was still the United States,” Andrés writes in his introduction. “It couldn’t be as bad as Haiti. We thought we’d be back by the end of the week. We were wrong.”

This book is not an easy read. A lot of it is upsetting. There are bright spots, of course, and Chef Andres’s big, sunny personality shines light on every page, even when he’s crying. And he cries a lot, with good reason. It is also not an easy read because it is chock full of statistics and numbers, which are not my forte. But even I was able to understand this nightmare and why the numbers were so important.

“Even the measures of food were confusing and FEMA had no way of understanding what was going on. The Red Cross talked about pounds of food, while others were talking about pallets. We preferred to talk about meals, which was actually what FEMA’s contracts specified. All these counts went into a big Excel spreadsheet that FEMA maintained and emailed every day. At the bottom of the spreadsheet, the total count of food was supposed to be there for everyone to see. Instead, the count was a calculating error because there was no standard unit of food that everyone used. If FEMA couldn’t manage a spreadsheet, how could it manage an emergency?”

I chose this book to read with my Foodie Book Club at Lynn University. I selected it for a few reasons, one being that the university takes seriously its role in educating students on the importance of civility and giving back. In a really big way. The other is a more personal tie. Chef Andres started his World Central Kitchen foundation after the earthquake in Haiti. Lynn University also suffered a devastating loss to that earthquake.

Honoring their legacy: 10 years since the Haiti earthquake

Ten years ago, 12 Lynn University students and two faculty members visited Haiti as part of a humanitarian course called Journey of Hope. They served the poor and brought hope to countless people with visits to a children’s handicapped home and an all-girls orphanage.

Following their service on Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. It devastated the island and took the lives of four of the 12 Lynn students and both faculty members. The university remembers Stephanie Crispinelli, Britney Gengel, Christine Gianacaci, Courtney Hayes, Dr. Patrick Hartwick and Dr. Richard Bruno every year, at the moment the earthquake struck.

There is a beautiful memorial on campus, and the university remembers everyone they lost each year.

Since the World Central Kitchen finished their work in Puerto Rico, they have been very busy. Most recently they sent meals to the people on board the Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan. It is easy to understand why Chef Andres gets the accolades he does; he is an extraordinary man, and this book is just a small part of his legacy. Don’t miss it.

3/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WE FED AN ISLAND by Jose Andres.  Anthony Bourdain/Ecco; Reprint edition (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-0062864499. 288.



THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS, edited by Alana Newhouse

April 19, 2019

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A Highly Debatable List 

From the publisher:

With contributions from Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Maira Kalman, Melissa Clark, and many more!

Tablet’s list of the 100 most Jewish foods is not about the most popular Jewish foods, or the tastiest, or even the most enduring. It’s a list of the most significant foods culturally and historically to the Jewish people, explored deeply with essays, recipes, stories, and context. Some of the dishes are no longer cooked at home, and some are not even dishes in the traditional sense (store-bought cereal and Stella D’oro cookies, for example). The entire list is up for debate, which is what makes this book so much fun. Many of the foods are delicious (such as babka and shakshuka). Others make us wonder how they’ve survived as long as they have (such as unhatched chicken eggs and jellied calves’ feet). As expected, many Jewish (and now universal) favorites like matzo balls, pickles, cheesecake, blintzes, and chopped liver make the list. The recipes are global and represent all contingencies of the Jewish experience. Contributors include Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Gail Simmons, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Maira Kalman, Action Bronson, Daphne Merkin, Shalom Auslander, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Phil Rosenthal, among many others. Presented in a gifty package, The 100 Most Jewish Foods is the perfect book to dip into, quote from, cook from, and launch a spirited debate.

Since tonight is the first night of Passover, this seemed like a good opportunity to talk about this book. And it is a book that is begging to be discussed. Maybe not with your book group, unless it is a predominantly Jewish book group, because really, no one else is going to care. But if you belong to a synagogue, sisterhood, Hadassah, or JCC type book group, bring it on!

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine. They had posted just the list of foods online and the response was quick and passionate. Thus this book was born. Just FYI, I did not get the “gifty package” of this book; the publisher sent me the advanced reader copy which is a paperback and missing things like page numbers. But all the important stuff is there, certainly more than enough upon which to base this review.

Each food is discussed by a different author and while not all are Jewish, I would say most are. I didn’t know who most of these authors were, but there is a lovely “About the Contributors” section in the back of the book. Sprinkled in among the Jewish names I didn’t know are celebrity/TV chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Eric Ripert, and Dan Barber; famous Jewish foodies and cookbook authors like Ruth Reichl, Joan Nathan, and Gail Simmons, and Jewish notables like the always-in-my-heart-West-Wing (but many, many other productions,) actor Joshua Malina, fashion designer Zac Posen, and the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and star of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil,” Phil Rosenthal. It is a fairly homogeneous group, and that is to be expected.

Each food is discussed and there are several recipes as well. Some are definitely controversial – let’s start with the obvious, bacon, but also Chinese food, and sushi. All right, it is “Kosher Sushi” so I’ll give it a pass.

I learned stuff, too, which is always a plus. Stella D’oro Swiss Fudge Cookies make an appearance in a piece written by Ian Frazier (who I know from his writing at The New Yorker). Silly me, I always assumed that Stella D’oro cookies were Italian, and the company was founded by the Zambetti family. But it was based in the Bronx in the 1930’s, in a very Jewish (80% he claims) neighborhood and they made cookies that did not contain dairy, thus rendering them pareve, and kosher. When the family sold the business to Kraft, they decided leaving out dairy was too expensive so they put it back in, lost the “pareve” label and sales plummeted. They went back to the original recipe, sold the company, strikes happened, they moved from the Bronx to Ashland, Ohio, and are still there. I loved the last line of this essay: “That the Swiss Fudge Cookie has its own story of suffering, exile, and survival makes it even more Jewish, I believe.” I believe, too.

All the usual suspects are here: lox, babka, chopped liver, schmaltz (and gribenes!), matzo, gefilte fish, challah, Hebrew National hot dogs, etc. And by usual, I mean Ashkenazic Jewish foods, the foods of my childhood, my life. But the Sephardim are also represented by pomegranate, Yemenite bread and soup, carciofi alla Giudia and more.

There is a lot of knowledge here but also a lot of laughs. This was also a nostalgic read, in a way, since a lot of these foods have disappeared from my life. I haven’t had kreplach since my grandmother died when I was a child. But I’ll be having matzo, chicken soup with matzo balls, charoset, chopped liver, macaroons, sponge cake and more tonight.

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For all my Jewish readers, I wish you a joyous Passover!

4/19 Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS by Alana Newhouse. Artisan (March 19, 2019). ISBN: 978-1579659066. 256p.


32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert

July 29, 2018

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From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Hailed by Anthony Bourdain as “heartbreaking, horrifying, poignant, and inspiring,” 32 Yolks is the brave and affecting coming-of-age story about the making of a French chef, from the culinary icon behind the renowned New York City restaurant Le Bernardin.


In an industry where celebrity chefs are known as much for their salty talk and quick tempers as their food, Eric Ripert stands out. The winner of four James Beard Awards, co-owner and chef of a world-renowned restaurant, and recipient of countless Michelin stars, Ripert embodies elegance and culinary perfection. But before the accolades, before he even knew how to make a proper hollandaise sauce, Eric Ripert was a lonely young boy in the south of France whose life was falling apart.

Ripert’s parents divorced when he was six, separating him from the father he idolized and replacing him with a cold, bullying stepfather who insisted that Ripert be sent away to boarding school. A few years later, Ripert’s father died on a hiking trip. Through these tough times, the one thing that gave Ripert comfort was food. Told that boys had no place in the kitchen, Ripert would instead watch from the doorway as his mother rolled couscous by hand or his grandmother pressed out the buttery dough for the treat he loved above all others, tarte aux pommes. When an eccentric local chef took him under his wing, an eleven-year-old Ripert realized that food was more than just an escape: It was his calling. That passion would carry him through the drudgery of culinary school and into the high-pressure world of Paris’s most elite restaurants, where Ripert discovered that learning to cook was the easy part—surviving the line was the battle.

Taking us from Eric Ripert’s childhood in the south of France and the mountains of Andorra into the demanding kitchens of such legendary Parisian chefs as Joël Robuchon and Dominique Bouchet, until, at the age of twenty-four, Ripert made his way to the United States, 32 Yolks is the tender and richly told story of how one of our greatest living chefs found himself—and his home—in the kitchen.

This was not what I was expecting at all. I have read several memoirs by chefs, and I expect the hardship of the kitchen. But I did not expect the hardship of a childhood, and Ripert’s was not especially pleasant. His mother was a very successful shopkeeper, so they had money, but for everyone who thinks that money is the answer to all problems, I suggest you read this book to find out why that is rarely the case.

The high pressure of the kitchen and how Ripert worked through it was inspiring to read. He holds the unique distinction of taking over a 3 Michelin star & NY Times 4 star restaurant, and holding on to those stars for over thirty years, a remarkable feat not repeated anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the book ends just as he arrives in America which leads me to hope there will be a sequel.

Co-written with Veronica Chambers, who also worked with Marcus Samuelsson on Yes, Chef, his memoir, she does an excellent job. For foodies who want more than what’s on TV.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert. Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0812983067. 256p.


COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha

January 28, 2017
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A Comic Book with Recipes

I loved Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, which came out a few years ago, but never really expected to find another graphic novel with recipes. I was wrong. Apparently graphic novel cookbooks are now a thing.

There was a really interesting article on eater.com about it, Why Cookbooks are Looking More Like Comicbooks. They point out:

But comic cookbooks can do something for home cooks, too — make recipes less daunting and easier to follow. Cookbooks are still in demand, but many — with their overly aspirational food photography — wind up as coffee-table books for the kitchen.

An interesting point, for sure. And click through to an older article, The Golden Era of Food Comics is Happening Right Now. Also interesting.

When I heard about Cook Korean!, I knew I had to take a look at it. I don’t know a lot about Korean food. Korean BBQ restaurants are around, and kimchi is hugely popular pretty much everywhere now, so it seemed like a good time to learn. And learn I did.

Table of Contents:

Kimchi and Pickles
Vegetable Side Dishes
Meat and Poultry
Soups and Stews
Noodles and Rice Cakes
Snacks and Street Foods
Cocktails and Anju
Korean Fusion

I included the introduction because it’s not your typical “here’s why I wrote this cookbook page.” Instead, it’s 20 pages or so of ingredients used in Korean cooking, the Korean refrigerator, the Korean pantry, Korean meal guide, Bap: Cooked Rice, Rice and its delicious by-products, Korea’s regions and foods and finally Dengki’s dress. In other words, lots of super useful information. With illustrations.

All the chapters are heavily illustrated, thus the graphic novel genre. I mean if you just picked it up without knowing it was a cookbook, it probably wouldn’t occur to you as you glanced through it. No, it’s not a novel, it’s cookbook/memoir and nonfiction while we usually call fiction books novels. But what I called comic books as a kid are now called graphic novels, regardless of whether or not the books contain fiction or nonfiction. My library shelves them in the nonfiction. I have noticed that some graphic novel memoirs are shelved in biographies, and I’m not sure who is making that distinction (Library of Congress? The Online Computer Library Center, better known as OCLC?) or why that distinction is being made. Congressman John Lewis just won a bunch of awards for the third book of his graphic novel trilogy memoir, March: Book Three (congrats!) which is shelved in biography. But I digress.

Other things I noticed when looking at the table of contents. I admitted up front I am pretty ignorant about Korean food. I didn’t know there were stews or porridges, for instance. Now I do. Kimchi Stew, for starters. And a Spicy Fish Stew. I learned that pine nuts are not just for pesto and are used in Pine Nut Porridge.

So kimchi. There is a little gastro pub near my house that makes killer kimchi. And by killer I mean they warn you if you try and order it that it is very hot, so I haven’t tried it. A kimchi loving friend (hi Dave!) has had it and really enjoys it. So everything I know about kimchi is that historically, it was made from cabbage in clay jars and buried in the dirt. The smell was supposedly horrific. And very, very spicy. But after reading this book, I learned that my suppositions were correct, but there are ways to make it much more palatable for my delicate American taste. Use less Korean chili, for starters. I also learned that kimchi can be made from a variety of vegetables, not just cabbage – radish, cucumber and green onion, just to name a few. I feel kimchi educated now.

Noodles are big in Asian cooking and Korean food is no exception. The recipe for Handmade Knife Noodles is about as close to pasta as you can get. Rice cakes are called Tteok and there are dozens of different kinds, mostly eaten as snacks or dessert.

The cocktails chapter includes a lesson in Korean Drinking Culture, including the admonishment to “always pour your elder’s drink with both your hands,” to never refuse a drink from your elders and “always refill drinks for others and never refill your own drink. You must wait for others to fill it up for you.”

The recipes are all explained and illustrated so that even someone as ignorant of Korean food and customs as I am, could successfully prepare anything in this book. I loved the watercolor type paintings that illustrate each chapter title page, and the drawings throughout the book really added to my understanding of technique. It’s funny, I never really cared for illustrations in cookbooks, for instance the beloved Silver Palate Cookbook, as I much prefer photographs. But for some reason, I love the illustrations here and didn’t miss the photos at all.

Finally, I was trying to figure out how many recipes there are but it was difficult as so many have variations included. The author does mention in her acknowledgements that her mother helped with 64 of the recipes though. Always nice to acknowledge your mom!

If you are curious about Korean cuisine and culture or you love Korean food and want to try making some yourself, this is the book for you.

1/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha. Ten Speed Press (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1607748878. 176p.


FOOD CITY by Joy Santlofer

November 24, 2016
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Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York

When a book is a labor of love, it shows on every page, and it truly does in Food City. Joy Santlofer was chair of New York University’s Food Studies Program, and she passed away in 2013, leaving her book to be published posthumously. Her colleague Marion Nestle wrote the forward.

This book explores the history of New York City through food. I was expecting bagels, roasted chestnuts and Chinatown. Instead, I got a fascinating education about beer, bread and so much more. I learned that the early Dutch settlers in the 1600’s drank beer – all of them, including the children, because it was cleaner than the water. I learned that the hipster paradise of Brooklyn was all farmland, and later on that giant of the food industry, Nabisco, got its start there making hard crackers for the Union army. I learned that there was a New York Tea Party four months after the Boston Tea Party.

German frankfurters paved the way for Coney Island hot dogs. Many of our most beloved foods started out in New York – Oreos, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Thomas’s English Muffins, Gulden Mustard, and Twizzlers.

Santlofer isn’t just dispensing facts here, she makes it really interesting and fun to read. I loved the stories about George Washington being sworn in as president (which for some reason I assumed had been done in Philadelphia,) John Jacob Astor’s first job as a delivery boy for a bakery, and I could easily visualize the herds of cattle being moved across 42nd Street to the slaughterhouses. I learned what life was really like for those first New Yorkers and how those lives changed over the years.

You don’t have to be a New Yorker to appreciate this book. Foodies will love it, as will history buffs. There really is something for everyone.

It seemed somehow fitting to write about this extraordinary book on Thanksgiving, a time when we are all thinking about food, and maybe thinking about those no longer sharing our table. I miss my mom and dad every day, but especially on Thanksgiving, it was her favorite holiday.

I didn’t know Joy, but I know her husband, the über talented Jonathan Santlofer – author, artist, and teacher at the Crime Fiction Academy at the Center for Fiction in New York City. It was Jonathan’s diligence and determination to honor his wife’s work, and their daughter Doria’s to honor her mother, that got her book published, and readers everywhere should be grateful. I know I am. 

11/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

FOOD CITY by Joy Santlofer. W. W. Norton & Company (November 1, 2016). ISBN: 978-0393076394. 480p.


MAD GENIUS TIPS by Justin Chapple

November 19, 2016
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& the Editors of Food & Wine

Over 90 Expert Hacks and 100 Delicious Recipes

This may be the most useful kitchen book/cookbook you’ll ever read. I am completely enthralled with Justin; I’ve been watching and sharing his videos for years, so I was delighted to see they gave him his own book.

I learned to halve cherry tomatoes and grapes between two plastic container lids, to pit cherries with a wine bottle and a chopstick, and to cut the corn off the cob in my Bundt pan (don’t scoff, try it once and you’ll never do it any other way.) Plus he includes recipes for a variety of terrific dishes, like taking that corn and making Corn-Studded Corn Muffins with Honey Mascarpone Whipped Corn Dip with Chili Oil. Yes, I said that. That same Bundt pan is used to make a terrific Buffalo-Style Roast Chicken with Potatoes.

Use your box grater to DIY Your Bread Crumbs, then make Braised Leeks with Fennel Bread Crumbs. It’s as good as it sounds. Loved the grilled cheese hack where you end up with Stuffed Grilled Cheese just using a fork. Learn to pipe using a Ziploc bag then make Frozen Yogurt Dots with Strawberries and Pistachios.

This book is laid out by kitchen tool, for lack of a better word. But what I love most is that the whole idea here is not to go out and buy a multitude of one-job kitchen tools. Justin uses stuff you already have. The chapters:

Aluminum Foiljustin-chapple
Baking Rack
Box Grater
Bundt Pan
Cookie Cutters
Food Processor
Mason Jar
Muffin Pan
Plastic Baggie
Plastic Lids
Waffle Iron
Wine Bottle


There’s a workable index and lots of great photographs, including many with Justin’s irrepressible smile. I love this book and hope you will, too.

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MAD GENIUS TIPS by Justin Chapple. Oxmoor House (November 1, 2016). ISBN 978-0848748425. 256p.

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted

August 12, 2016

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry OlmstedWhy You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a while now, and I would start reading, get upset, close that book and go on to something else. After several false starts, I steeled myself and got into it. It’s not that it’s a difficult read in the sense of being wordy or high brow or too scientific for this English major, but rather that I found the subject matter upsetting.

Several years ago my husband had a very mild heart attack followed by not so mild surgery. Since then I’ve been intent on feeding my family healthy foods, and let me tell you, those parameters seem like they change weekly sometimes. Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee, drink coffee. Same with wine. Eat lots of fruit, eat only berries, limit fruit. Vegan or Paleo? Vegetarian or pescatarian? Mediterranean, carb free, gluten free, dairy free, the list goes on and on and on.

What I finally decided on, what works best for me and my family, is basically living by Michael Pollan’s golden rule:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

 We usually limit red meat – grass fed, organic – to a couple of times a month. Wild fish. Organic, free range poultry. Same with eggs. Mostly organic fruits and vegetables, I try to shop with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 as my guide whenever possible. You get the idea.

So to read this book and learn that I may be spending money, lots of money, on foods that aren’t what they purport to be is upsetting. The Tampa Tribune did that year long investigation into restaurants and how they lie about grass fed and organics and so forth and that was bad enough, but this book takes it even further.

Extra virgin olive oil? Don’t hold your breath, you’ve probably never even tasted it. What is commonly sold in American supermarkets is something that may have started with olive oil, then had other oils like soybean or sunflower oil added to it, which is bad enough, but also has chemical additives. I’ve been buying olive oil from California, which is delicious and even more importantly, is what it professes to be. I used to have to buy it online, but now most supermarkets carry at least one or two varieties, from Walmart to Publix to Fresh Market. I’ve heard that there are some Florida farms that were devastated by the citrus greening that are now experimenting with growing olives for oil, but it will take a few years to see how it works out.

Fish? Unless you’ve caught it yourself, you just have no idea what you’re getting. Red snapper is one of the worst, it’s usually tilapia or tilefish. And shrimp? OMG – Olmsted writes:

In 2007, the FDA banned five kinds of imported shrimp from China; China turned around and routed the banned shrimp through Indonesia, stamped it as originating from there, and suddenly it was back in the US food ­supply.

And that’s not even the worst seafood culprit. Escolar is a fish so toxic that it is outlawed in Japan, but somehow it makes its way to US tables, often as white tuna in sushi restaurants. In fact, Olmsted says the odds of actually getting white tuna in an American sushi restaurant is about 0%.

I could go on and on, and Olmsted does – but he also offers some good news. Big box stores like Costco, BJs, Trader Joe’s and even Walmart are as stringent with their food labeling as the much more expensive Whole Foods. Bison is a cleaner and healthier alternative to beef. If you buy food live – like lobsters – that can’t be faked. Buy coffee beans and grind them yourself at home or the supermarket, at least you know you are getting 100% percent coffee in your bag. Check the label for country of origin when purchasing cheese, and the rinds – Reggiano Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano are stamped on the rind of those cheeses from Italy.

If you care about what you eat, or are a foodie of any kind, this is fascinating and elucidating reading.

For more information, check out Diane Rehm’s interview with Larry Olmsted:

drshow_logo_sm_1285 Foods You Can Trust-And 5 To Avoid, From The Author Of ‘Real Food/Fake Food’ – The Diane Rehm Show

Larry Olmsted titled his book ” Real Food/Fake Food,” instead of “Fake Food/Real Food,” he told us during his July 6 interview on our show, because he’s passionate about high-quality, natural meals – and he wants others to have the same approach, too. “These real foods are so good,” he said.


8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted. Algonquin Books (July 12, 2016). ISBN: 978-1616204211. 336p.

1,000 FOODS TO EAT BEFORE YOU DIE by Mimi Sheraton

April 10, 2015
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A Food Lover’s Life List

So let me get the food metaphors out of the way by saying this book is yummy – do not read on an empty stomach!

I remember when Mimi Sheraton was the restaurant critic for the New York Times, back in the 1970’s (yes, I am that old!) She is a James Beard award winning journalist and has written about food for more magazines that I can name. Oh, and she’s also written several cookbooks. So what I’m saying is Mimi Sheraton is uniquely qualified to write this book. And it was a joy reading it.

So what’s in this book? Lots. Laura Kiniry of Smithsonian Magazine said it succinctly; “1,000 must-try dishes, restaurants, markets, cultural feasts, and even some relatively universal foods (such as bananas, olive oil, and whipped cream) that transcend regional categorization.” Sit down with this book, a pen and paper (or tablet or computer) and start making your own food bucket list.

Sure, it won’t be easy to get to some of these things. I think all the Chinese dishes are meant to be eaten in the various provinces of China, German food in Germany, and so forth but with many dishes, there are recommended restaurants in major cities like New York as well.

The book is organized more or less geographically, so if you’re an expert on French and Italian, skip over to the chapters on Belgian & Dutch or Scandinavian food or even Jewish food, for example. Lots of recipes are included if you want to try making some magic yourself. And if the recipe isn’t provided, there are usually notes on particular recipes that work. For instance, Candied Citrus Peel, not the dreck you find stuffed in fruitcakes but handmade candied citrus is explained, but then the notes suggest recipes from Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling, The Joy of Cooking (2006), The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition,) and Mimi’s own My Mother’s Kitchen.

The foods range from the simple – Sour Cream, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Oreos! to the sublime – the “great cheeses of Spain”, caviar, truffles. The research is meticulous. I’ve been eating Gefilte Fish my whole life and never knew its history, or even how it’s made. Even though a recipe isn’t provided, the basic steps are, as well as where to buy it – Barney Greengrass in NY, Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen in Houston, and where to “dine-in” or mail order it, and finally referrals to recipes in The New York Times Jewish Cookbook, Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and so forth.

This book is to be savored and is a real treat. (Sorry, thought I got the food metaphors out of the way earlier, guess not!) Buy it for your favorite foodie and they will thank you.

4/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

1,000 FOODS TO EAT BEFORE YOU DIE by Mimi Sheraton. Pinnacle (March 31, 2015). ISBN: 978-0786034239. 352p.

ROADFOOD by Jane & Michael Stern

July 26, 2014

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The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 900 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More (9th edition)

Long before Guy Fieri hit the road (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,) indeed long before there was even a Food Network, Jane and Michael Stern took to the road to find the best places to eat on a coast to coast drive. Their first edition of Roadfood came out in 1978 and was subtitled, “the coast to coast guide to over 400 of america’s great inexpensive regional restaurants all within 10 miles of a major highway.” Their 9th edition of this classic book now includes more than twice that number of restaurants.

The first thing I looked for was Florida restaurants. That’s where I live, and most of my road trips extend to traveling around my state. Sadly, south Florida was seriously under-represented here, but the rest of the state seems pretty well covered.

That said, if I was driving across the country, I would treasure these recommendations. You will not find any chain restaurants here, but rather the best places that locals frequent.

The Sterns include location information, website and phone numbers, a brief history of the restaurant, a short review, suggested menu items, and pricing guidelines. Most restaurants are inexpensive, this is not the book  for the best restaurants in major cities. For instance, the few New York City restaurants recommended include Katz’s Deli (think When Harry Met Sally) and John’s of Bleeker Street (terrific pizza,) not Per Se, Peter Lugers or El Posto.

The book is divided into geographical regions – for instance Florida is in the “Deep South.” Other regions include New England, Mid-Atlantic (New York is here,) Mid-South, Midwest, Southwest, Great Plains and West Coast. The back of the book includes a quick guide, an alphabetical listing of restaurants by region.

Even with the price of gas, people still love road trips. And this is the best book you can take along for the ride.

7/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ROADFOOD by Jane & Michael Stern. Clarkson Potter; 9 edition (March 4, 2014). ISBN 978-0770434526. 640p.

SOUS CHEF by Michael Gibney

June 22, 2014

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24 Hours on the Line

Everyone has eaten in a restaurant but do you have any idea of what’s involved in getting your food to the table? The small glimpses garnered from the Food Network and other cable TV shows merely hint at what is involved. Here, Gibney defines it for us and takes us along on his wild ride.

This is the first book written in second person that I ever loved – and I mean loved it. I read it in one sitting. Dibney takes us through 24 hours in the life of a sous chef, the second in command in a kitchen. In effect he makes the reader a fly on the wall of his kitchen.

The restaurant is nameless, but is described as a neighborhood French restaurant that is upscale for sure, but not the toast of New York City. We meet the crew, from the executive chef, the man in charge, through the line cooks, prep cooks,and even the dishwashers. Front of house staff – the servers, waiters, et al, – are merely on the fringe here. This is a book about cooking.

Everyone here is passionate but not everyone is ambitious, which is probably a good thing. Kitchens can be very competitive, and indeed Gibney describes competitions he has with himself in putting together his mise en place. But it is serving the customer that is at the heart of this kitchen.

The pacing is relentless, the writing superior, and all in all this is just a fascinating read. I loved it.

6/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SOUS CHEF: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney.Ballantine Books (March 25, 2014). ISBN 978-0804177870. 240p.