The 8 Best Food Memoirs of 2020

Tasty stories to dig into

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Our Top Picks

Best Easy Read: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

"Reading Reichl feels like you’re catching up with an old friend over coffee."

Best Inspirational: Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein

"A searing and inspirational story of a young man who had to fight to get ahead."

Best Southern: The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

"Examines the author's ancestry alongside the origins of barbeque, soul food, and Southern food."

Best French: My Life in France by Julia Child  

"A delightful story of how Julia Child learned the art of French cooking."

Best for Professionals: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

"A longtime favorite memoir of food industry folks."

Best Coming of Age: The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin

"America’s favorite French chef recounts his adventures, starting in war-torn France".

Best Sustainable: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

"Follows the story of the Kingslovers, who move to Appalachia to grow their own food."

Best Multi-Cultural: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

"An honest, fascinating tale about Sameulsson’s quest to understand flavor."

When you need an escape into someone else’s life, these are the books that we read and reread to transport and delight us. Some are written by chefs, some are written by celebrities, some are written by folks you may not have heard of. But each is a worthwhile read that deserves a place on your bookshelf or would make excellent gifts for your food-loving friends.

Here are our picks of the best food memoirs available.

Best Easy Read: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

If you’re even a little bit interested in food memoirs, you’ve probably already read something by Ruth Reichl. Among other things, she’s the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, author of several bestselling memoirs, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine. Save Me the Plums is the long-awaited chronicle of her time at Gourmet, and a fascinating look back at the golden age of print media. Reading Reichl feels like you’re catching up with an old friend over coffee so don’t be surprised if you gobble up the book in an afternoon. 

Best Inspirational: Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein

There are plenty of chipper food memoirs out there, but Kwame Onwuachi’s Notes from a Young Black Chef is not one of them. What it is, though, is a searing and inspirational story of a young black man with passion and talent, who fought his way through an often-unwelcoming, blatantly racist food world to pursue his vocation. He speaks candidly of moving from the Bronx to Nigeria at the age of ten to live with his grandfather for two years, training at the Culinary Institute of America (meanwhile running his catering company to pay tuition), working at Per Se, and learning “to hustle to get ahead, to write my own story, and to manipulate, to the extent that I could, how I was seen.” As we struggle in America to work through our structural racism, Onwuachi’s memoir is a critical text.

Best Southern: The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

The Washington Post has called Michael Twitty “a serious contender” for the most interesting man in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. This captivating, meticulously researched book is a mix of memoir and historical text, examining his ancestry alongside the origins of barbecue, soul food, and Southern food. Who owns these foods? What can their stories teach us about our origins as a slave-holding nation? How can we move past our shameful stories and make a better America? Hard questions, yes, but Twitty’s work brings us closer to the answers.

Best French: My Life in France by Julia Child  

Today, we revere Julia Child as the woman who popularized French cooking in America. When she arrived in Paris in 1948 at the age of 36, she was a former bureaucrat who loved French food and markets, but spoke no French and had no career or plans to speak of. My Life in France is the delightful and inspiring story of how she—with her signature persistence, charm, and the love and support of her husband Paul—learned the art of French cooking, wrote a book, found a publisher, and became the food icon that we all know and adore.

Best for Professionals: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential needs little introduction, and chef-author Anthony Bourdain needs none. A longtime favorite text of food industry folks, it goes into the gritty behind the scenes of New York City’s late-90s haute cuisine world. Bourdain’s motto is “Your body is not a temple–it’s an amusement park” and this book is an unsanitized, sometimes brutal look at the heart of the restaurant scene, for better or for worse. If you enjoy coming-of-age stories, tirades against vegetarians, and useful tips and tricks on how to order (for instance, never eat Hollandaise at the brunch buffet) and prepare food at home, you’ll love it.

Best Coming of Age: The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin grew up in war-torn France (his father, a resistance fighter, was captured by the Germans in front of Jacques), working diligently in his mother’s café. From there, he became Charles de Gaulle’s personal chef, moved to America and befriended Julia Child and her food pals, studied at Columbia University, then worked at Howard Johnson. Julia Child called him “the best chef in America” and his story is memorable and delightful. Pepin came of age when food was simply a daily necessity and was one of the food personalities who made it into a pastime. Like Pepin himself, this book is a national treasure.

Best Sustainable: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

If you’ve ever dreamed of leaving it all behind to make your own cheese and grow your own vegetables, you’ll love this true story written by one of America’s favorite novelists. After spending most of their lives in Arizona, the Kingsolvers moved to Appalachia to grow their own food. What ensues is a thoughtful, passionate, funny book by Barbara Kingsolver and her family about turkey breeding, asparagus season, farming mishaps, and what it would take to build an equitable, sustainable food system. After reading, don’t be surprised if you become inspired to start your own farming (or at least gardening) adventure.

Best Multi-Cultural: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Samuelsson’s story begins with his recollections of his mother—who he has never seen a photo of—who walked 75 miles from their Ethiopian village to Addis Ababa to get him and his sister medical care when they were sick with tuberculosis. They survived, she did not. Samuelsson was then adopted by a family in Sweden and would walk to his grandmother’s house every Saturday to help her prepare their weekly roast chicken. From there, he made his way to some of the top kitchens in Switzerland and France, worked on cruise ships, then made his way to Aquavit in New York City where he earned a three-star rating from The New York Times at the age of 24. Yes, Chef is a deeply personal recounting of his triumphs, failures, and passion. A compelling and engrossing read, especially for those working to make their own place in the world.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Writer and professional cheese eater Christine Clark is an avid reader of food memoirs. Her ideal afternoon involves a book, a cup of tea, and a little cheese or chocolate to snack on. She is a Certified Cheese Professional through the American Cheese Society and cheese podcaster.

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