Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
I first read Kitchen Confidential in 2002 when I crossed the Atlantic Ocean from St Maarten in the French West Indies to Gibraltar. I had been working in a restaurant there for two years and as I boarded the Pamela C my good friend and fellow waiter Erin put this book in my hand and said, "You'll enjoy this, and there is a special surprise for you on the last page."
I absolutely loved this book; I related to it because after nine years in the service industry, mostly spent in London, I certainly knew my way around a kitchen. I had also perfected the art of dodging angry chefs, egos, and orbital pots and plates. There is a truth in the saying "if you can’t stand the heat… stay out of the kitchen", and it is never better illustrated than in a busy restaurant.
The book is a startlingly realistic sometimes stomach-turning insight into the restaurant kitchen subculture that sums up the sociopathic chef and his motley crew to a tee.
Whilst I laughed my way through the many anecdotes, I realised how grateful I was for the past decade of my life, initially surviving and then living it up in this crazy, hectic, hilarious battle-ground environment.
And as for the surprise at the end, well it turns out that Mr Bourdain and his wife holiday in St Maarten once a year, and this was a very sweet ending to my story.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book describes the self-reflective journey around the world the author takes after a messy divorce. This might sound like something straight out of a cheesy movie, but there is no denying this woman's hopes, her dreams, and mostly, her fears are living in most of us.
She travels first to Italy where she arrives hollow and thin, mentally and physically drained and teetering on the brink of a depression that has never seemed to be far away. Her physical condition acts as a metaphor for the spiritual journey that she will undertake on her travels to redeem her self confidence.
In Rome she eats the finest pizzas and pastas in the world and with a measure of red wine and good company she soon fills out in waist and soul. A rich description of every dough ball consumed helps you live vicariously through Elizabeth and delight in the pleasure that sometimes only good food can bring.
Next she moves to an Ashram in India where she embraces her spirituality and through meditation and yoga looks into her darkest self to find her god.
Lastly, it is to the paradise of Bali where she inevitably starts to look for love, and here she completes her journey by learning to love herself.
While this book might be too winsome for some readers, I enjoyed it, and through her journey you learn that it is only when you look to your darkest self that your learn how to embrace the light and eventually be your true self.
Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris
What if you could bottle a year of your past? Which one would it be? What would it smell like? How would it taste? These are the questions that begin the book Blackberry Wine, one of a "food triology" that includes Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange by Harris.
This novel is about a young man, Jay, who tries to recapture his childhood memories by purchasing a farmhouse in a remote French village in Gascony. This opens a doorway into another world, where a ghost from his past waits to confront him.
This book was recommended to me by a close friend who, like many of my friends, enjoys a good read, a bit of wine and sometimes daydreams about living in a villa in France where old ghosts can be replaced with happy, hazy memories filled with sunshine, puppy dogs and ice cream.
This book's magical appeal lies in the mystery of Jay's past combined with the story that lies within every glass of wine.