Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Secret Ingredients

The best time to read Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink may be just after you've finished taking a creative nonfiction writing course. While my professor assigned us a wide range of essays to ponder and critique, virtually none were examples within my genre: food and wine writing.

Secret Ingredients fills that gap. Every piece I've read — it is our current read-aloud book for road trips — seems to hit it out of the park. The very first essay, "All You Can Hold For Five Bucks," about traditional New York beefsteaks has colorful details, well-constructed scenes, good dialog, and a narrative flow that keeps you moving through it. And that piece is followed by another excellent one. And another.

The New Yorker has always been able to attract top talent, and so it's no surprise to find great pieces throughout this thick book, which spans not only the magazine's eighty-year history but a wide range of topics: from eating rats at restaurants that specialize in their preparation to eating at Fernand Point's La Pyramide at its height. There is a sprawling essay about Julia Child and a story by Roald Dahl. In fact, if I have a problem with this book, it's only that every entry reminds me of how far I still have to go as a writer.

But I do have one note of caution. Make sure you're well fed before you sit down to read the book. Because if you're at all hungry, as Melissa and I were on a recent road trip, this book will make you hungrier still.