Friday, April 23, 2010

Foodie Friday: A Review of "Cooking for Mr. Latte"

Despite the name of this post, I have a love-hate relationship with foodies. I appreciate their dedication to cooking and fresh food (they are the anti-Sandra Lee) even as I find some of them holier-than-thou and insufferably pretentious. Consequently, it took me a long time to pick up Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte, which is basically a memoir with recipes. In the super-short chapters, Hesser writes about her love of food while also discussing her relationship with Mr. Latte, who gets his pseudonym because he had the audacity to order a latte after dinner (the Italian rule is that milky drinks are for before 11:00 am).

This anecdote, from the very first chapter, almost turned me off of the book, but since I was stuck on a six-hour train ride and my iPhone wasn't getting great reception, I ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. Reflecting on reading it, I must admit that the first chapter is a very accurate indicator of what will come. The following chapters detail Ms. Hesser's obsession with food, her food-related quirks, and her ongoing romance with Mr. Latte, who isn't quite the foodie she is (besides the latte gaffe, she seems genuinely horrified by his use of Equal and his choice in restaurants). She also includes a few recipes at the end of each chapter.

To Ms. Hesser's credit, she does not shy away from including her foibles and shortcomings. She talks about her perfectionist tendencies in the kitchen and her obsessiveness with all things related to food. However, in the end, you get the sense that she sees her food snobbery as completely justified and right. Not only is she genetically predisposed to her strong opinions about food (her mother and grandmother both appear in the book as wonderful and opinionated cooks), but the recipes often lean towards the gourmet (vanilla beans, prosciutto, and veal abound in the ingredients list).

In some cases, she won me over. Her descriptions of what she brings to eat on airplanes had me thinking about what I might do to make my next trip more bearable (the food on Amtrak is many things, but inspired it isn't). I also loved her essay on eating alone, which I had read before in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. At her best, she reminded me of the joy and pleasure of cooking good food. At her worst (and most snobbish), she made me want to throw the book off of the train and promise myself that I would never, ever chastise anyone for using produce that came from the frozen food section of the local grocery store (she includes a very stern warning about using store-bought, frozen blueberries in one recipe).

Like my views on foodies, my opinion of this book is rather complicated. As I noted above, there are sections of the book that I truly enjoyed. Also, there is something very refreshing and invigorating about reading someone's passionate opinions on food. That said, there was many a times I wanted to shake Hesser, who sometimes comes off as insufferably elitist. Her view of food (and her world) are definitely not those of someone who is on a budget. While I do recommend this book if you are looking for a light read about love and food (and the love of food), you should definitely be aware that, if you aren't a food snob, this book might either make you one or make you want to distance yourself from anything foodie related.