Delicious Reading Is On the Menu
Review by Julian Wolf
Steal the Menu: A Memoir of Forty Years in Food
“I was there and I ate what was in front of me.”
Steal the Menu: A Memoir of Forty Years in Food is more than a collection of memories and moments in front of table; it is an anecdotal history of the world of cuisine for the last eight decades. Well-known as a restaurant reviewer, food historian, novelist and groundbreaking food editor for the New York Times, Raymond Sokolov brings a uniquely educated perspective to world cuisine. Sokolov, who has always had a “lusty appetite,” documents his journey starting just before World War II in Detroit with his first meal at the hospital where he was born.
Sharing the events of his life in a conversational tone, Sokolov includes his first taste of celebrity as a grade school spelling bee champion, the experience that first piqued his interest in journalism. As his story unfolds, he tends to skip between years, giving examples from different eras simultaneously and pairing similar details that make his already unique life all the more interesting. Given the casual tone of the memoir, this time traveling technique worked and it was easy to stay engaged, even as I found myself reaching for my laptop to research the occasional unfamiliar haute cuisine jargon. His lust for food and passion for the written word is clear as he weaves through a career writing articles and acclaimed books, including the seminal Saucier’s Apprentice: A Modern Guide to Classic French Sauces for the Home.
Navaro via Wikimedia Commons
His appreciation of being in the right place at the right time, eating what was there and then writing about it is a frequent theme, one that I appreciate. Sokolov candidly describes the times that he felt he was in over his head, such as his initial post at the New York Times (where the outgoing food editor Craig Clairborne gave him the advice to “steal the menu” from the restaurants he’d be reviewing) and the times that he knew exactly what he was doing, such as his work with Natural History magazine. Reading about the successes and missteps of such a long and distinguished career left me hungry to take more risks in my professional life—and when deciding what’s for dinner.
Even after reading this novel-like memoir, it would be quite a treat to sit down for a meal with Mr. Sokolov. His history encompasses such a vital part of the globalization of cuisine, I recommend Steal the Menu to people who enjoy food, modern history, or even just non-fiction. I can’t legally recommend that you steal any menus, but I do recommend that you read this book.
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