Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book review: 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert

I love food shows and cookbooks and though I don't read many memoirs,  I had a feeling that 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert would be one that I'd enjoy.  In this book, Ripert tells the story of his life from childhood until his early twenties, which is right before he leaves Europe for a job in Washington D.C.  His early years were not easy, scarred by his parents' divorce, an abusive stepfather and then his father's unexpected death.  As he always had a strong appreciation of food and cooking, he heads to culinary school at fifteen years old, then tells tales of working in elite, stress-filled kitchens for and with the best chefs in the world. 

Ripert shares so many anecdotes that really help you understand why he is the person that he is.  Some of the best sections are ones that touch on his personal mentors and his admiration for the figures in his life.  This was a library book so I couldn't mark up the pages but there were too many lines and paragraphs that I wanted to remember and return to that I started taking very tiny notes on a sticky pad. Some of my favorites:
  • When speaking about Jacques, his childhood mentor, in Andorra: "But Jacques's baba au rhum--the rich, yeasty cake soaked to dark run with just the right hint of vanilla--was my true addiction.  One day I asked if his mother had taught him the recipe. "No," he said, holding up the bag of supermarket flour. "The recipe's right on the package. But when you cook a dish with passion, you elevate even a box recipe."  (page 83)

  • Ripert tells you step-by-step how he learned to make the perfect souffle and in the process, he makes eggs and butter sound like the most exotic and prized ingredients on earth. (page 102-103)

  • While at his first internship during vocational school, he accidentally electrocuted his boss and as a result, learned how to perfectly scrub toilets as punishment. (page 114)

  • When he was switched to the pastry station while at his first chef job at La Tour d'Argent in Paris: "I didn't last long: I was kicked off after I ate twenty-five strawberry tartlets and I don't know how many chocolates made for that night's petit-fours." (page 150-151)

And after I finished, I listened to Bon Appetit's podcast episode featuring Ripert and learned even more backstory.  He shared some of the more memorable stories from the book, and confirmed that even some of the moments from his book that take place when he is 5 or 6 years old are still clear and vivid in his mind. I also loved how he spoke of his own former bad behavior in the kitchen, which you would never suspect from his calm, soft-spoken demeanor. 

32 Yolks will make you consider food in a new way.  Ripert describes produce in such luscious language that fruits and vegetables will never look the same to you.  The book will make you want to immediately hop on a plane and walk around a small town in France so you can appreciate the sights and smells and sounds of a new place.  It'll make you think about the small things that happen in your earlier years that have a huge influence on your later life. This is a pretty quick read and I'd definitely recommend it for Ripert's lovely language, the beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking stories of his past and the insight into the food world.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny


I love short stories. I read them and I write them, but I'll freely admit that short story collections are not most readers' first choice.  It's not easy to tell a complete story, to make the world of your characters seem full-blooded, in just a few pages, but when a short story is good, it tends to stick with me longer than some full-length mediocre novels. 

I sought out Katherine Heiny's Single, Carefree, Mellow at a library several towns away because of a story of hers I read years ago in an old New Yorker magazine. The story, "How to Give the Wrong Impression," included in this collection, is told in the second person and focuses on the relationship between two roommates, Gwen and Boris.  I fell in love with the end of the story when Boris finds Gwen cleaning the bathroom late at night while she's wearing an old pair of his boxer shorts.  The language is true and tender, and it is not only something I want to read over and over but it's a perfect example of the type of writing I strive to create.

Single, Carefree, Mellow did not disappoint. Every story was interesting and entertaining in a wonderful way. I flew through the book, then went back and re-read a few favorites. There are three really great stories that feature a woman named Maya, each at a different point in her life. There are nosy neighbors and precocious children and older husbands and loyal best friends. And there's a ton of infidelity. In fact, almost every story features adultery in some way or another. I usually hate when cheating is used as a major plot point but Heiny's characters are flawed and very aware of their mistakes. Like in the real world, no one is perfect and there's nothing wrong with that.

This was one of the best short story collections that I've read in the last few years.  Heiny is able to find humor in even the most ordinary situations, making Single, Carefree, Mellow a real joy to read. Heiny has a novel in the works and I'll definitely be keeping that on my radar for sure.