First-person narrators give new food books a taste of reality


Right in the preface of his “Bite a Peach — Memories and Adventures Behind the Scenes of Trendy Kitchens at Momofuku” (BRL 69.90), recently released by Companhia de Mesa, the celebrated American chef David Chang tries to explain to the reader what he does. has it in your hands: it is not a cookbook, as many might expect, but “a narrative as honest and truthful as I can be offered.”

“For the record, I still think of it as a guide of what not to do when starting a business. It’s my brain dodging to think of the monumental weirdness of being asked to write a book about my life, not to mention the big ego. worrying that allowed me to say ‘yes'”, he sums up.

In the 344 pages that run, Chang chronicles the hardships, regrets and facts that led him to be one of the most recognized chefs on the planet, creator of the Momofuku empire (with dozens of restaurants across the US and the world) and the famous face of a series of programs (like “Ugly Delicious” on Netflix).

It is a mix of memoir and open letter to the industry in which he explores “matters that he has not yet fully processed”: quirks, the limits of anger, accusations of cultural appropriation in his dishes, the harsh environment of the kitchens.

“I’m sure I’ve also contradicted statements I’ve made in the past, either because I changed my mind, because I was being flippant before, or because I’m getting confused now,” he says, with a high degree of honesty.

The book — which has a curious metaphor already on the cover, of a Sisyphus carrying a huge peach that rolled down a cliff to the top of the mountain — is also a search for a “cloth hand” in the sharp-edged image that chefs like him tried to imprint on the over the past few decades.

In times of #MeToo and denunciations about the toxic environments that surround professional kitchens in different parts of the world, famous cooks no longer sustain the aura of good guys who used to be on the covers of magazines.

Chang shared one of the most famous of them in 2013, when Time portrayed him alongside René Redzepi and Brazilian Alex Atala with the headline “The Gods of Food” (women only appear discreetly in the internal report).

But this mea culpa made by him is interesting, which makes the book even more interesting for the reader. “I hate that anger has become my calling card,” Chang writes of how he came to be recognized among friends, co-workers and the media.

His regrets and ruminations in the book are mostly a request for forgiveness to reverse a sometimes blurred image. It’s been a long time since gastronomy books turned to the “real” of the profession, laminated with the Chef’s Table aesthetic on TV and with works showing impeccable recipes alongside chefs with always clean dolmans.

Since at least Anthony Bourdain published his “Confidential Kitchen” in 2000, in which he showed that restaurants were dirtier than the layers of grease on the tiles could deliver.

In a posthumous new book, written by Bourdain and his former assistant Laurie Woolever (“Around the World: An Irreverent Guide”, Intrinsic), he also speaks of his (self) limitations.

“I never intended to be a reporter, a critic, a champion as they painted me. Nor did I have any intention of informing the public ‘everything’ they needed to know about a place,” he says frankly.

“Sincere” first-person narratives took on new meaning in food journalism as voices needed to be expanded in the coverage that was being done—mainly around discussions of #BlackLivesMatter and immigrant issues appropriated by mostly male chefs whites.

In the US, where the market is most prolific, titles such as “A Young Black Chef” (“A Young Black Chef”) by Nigerian chef Kwame Onwuachi and “Filipinx: Heritage Recipes From the Diaspora” (“Filipino: Recipes” Inherited from Diaspora”), by chef Angela Dimayuga, are proof of this new trend in the publishing market, in which diversity and authentic voices have gained greater value.

The media —from specialized sites like Eater to major newspapers like The New York Times and Le Monde— have intensified the publication of more essays written by characters from the gastronomic world, from top cooks to waiters, passing by researchers who live in countries where a kind of culinary colonialism has always prevailed.

For journalist and essayist Alicia Kennedy, who lives in Puerto Rico, where she writes about food from a political and cultural perspective, people now want to hear visions of gastronomy that have been smothered for a long time.

“I used my newsletter to make my voice heard in a way that I’ve never been allowed before, and somehow it worked, people identified themselves,” he says.

“From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy” has more than a dozen thousand subscribers, many of them willing to pay for what she writes.

power of the real

For the American Bill Buford, author of two books on gastronomy —the most recent of them “Five Years in Lyon” (Table Company, R$ 114.90, 544 pages)—, there is something very powerful and fundamental in the real stories. “An experience well lived in fact can be brutal from a narrative point of view,” he says in an interview with Folha.

Her work around food centers around her quest to learn how to cook professionally. In “Calor”, he spent a period in the kitchens of chef Mario Batali (recently accused of harassment) and in the butcher shop of Macellaio Dario Cecchini to unveil the secrets of Italian cuisine.

In the new volume, he centers the story on his years in Lyon, considered the most culinary city in France, to learn how to make bread —with the baker Bob, an intriguing local baker—to boudin noir, the famous pudding made with pig’s blood .

“Even when I talk about other characters, there is always a lot of me in my texts. But I think it’s mainly for the reason that watching people also transforms me”, he confesses.

“First-person texts are testimonies of emotions that generally bring more integrity to what is written,” he says.

When these emotions are vulnerable and flawed, it seems, they tend to be even more popular with audiences. Something that the gastronomic publishing market is more willing to bet.

As Chang says in one of the passages in “Bite a Peach”: “I’ve talked a lot about the importance of failures, but it’s really a privilege to expect people to continually let me fail.” And, above all, want to read about them.


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