A movie based on a book about cooking is getting huge coverage these days, and I have plans to go and see it tomorrow with my friend and neighbor Judy, a food lover and an accomplished cook and cookbook writer herself. I've not read Julie & Julia yet, but the hype around it has reminded me of a couple of books about cooking that I enjoyed enormously.
The first, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School, is by Kathleen Flinn, who was also inspired by Julia Child. When she found herself suddenly jobless in London, she was encouraged by the man who would become her husband to pursue her dream of following Child's path to the Cordon Bleu in Paris. (For some reason, all of these women who write of their dreams to cook have wonderful men in their lives.) In addition to recipes at the end of most chapters, it's a great peek inside the acclaimed school, and the institution's adherence to classic French cooking--try pigs' trotters glazed handmade foie gras on toast--is admirable in the face of food trends that come and go. Then again, they are the French.
Even better is Bill Buford's Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. As the breathless subtitle suggests, it's a wild ride, beginning with Buford cooking, not terribly well, for a a friend's birthday party when he learns that one of his guests will be the famous chef of Babbo. As Julia Reed writes in her fabulous May 2006 review in the New York Times, when Batali arrives at Buford's apartment, he is "toting an armload of wine, homemade grappa and lardo, strips rich of pork fat he's cured himself and that he lays directly onto the tongues of guests. By the end of the evening he's playing air guitar and trying unsuccessfully to salsa with women who can no longer stand up." Buford ends up working in the kitchen at Babbo. Batali proves to be a lot less fun as a boss than as a party guest, but Buford emerges from that experience and three years in a trattoria in Italy a cook first and a writer second, although he is highly gifted as the latter. After making his way through a lot of Tuscan women, he then meets his wife. It's just a great story with characters who are stranger than fiction.