Review: Generation Chef

Generation Chef, Karen Stabiner

Published September 13th 2016 by Avery

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC received from publisher

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Inside what life is really like for the new generation of professional cooks—a captivating tale of the make-or-break first year at a young chef’s new restaurant.

For many young people, being a chef is as compelling a dream as being a rock star or professional athlete. Skill and creativity in the kitchen are more profitable than ever before, as cooks scramble to reach the top—but talent isn’t enough. Today’s chef needs the business savvy of a high-risk entrepreneur, determination, and big dose of luck.

The heart of Generation Chef is the story of Jonah Miller, who at age twenty-four attempts to fulfill a lifelong dream by opening the Basque restaurant Huertas in New York City, still the high-stakes center of the restaurant business for an ambitious young chef. Miller, a rising star who has been named to the 30-Under-30 list of both Forbes and Zagat, quits his job as a sous chef, creates a business plan, lines up investors, leases a space, hires a staff, and gets ready to put his reputation and his future on the line.

Journalist and food writer Karen Stabiner takes us inside Huertas’s roller-coaster first year, but also provides insight into the challenging world a young chef faces today—the intense financial pressures, the overcrowded field of aspiring cooks, and the impact of reviews and social media, which can dictate who survives.

I’ve become a Top Chef addict and I love trying the food of Chicago’s celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard so I was really excited to read this story of a new NYC restaurant opening and through their first year.  My husband jokes about opening a diner one day and I think this book proves my nerves could never handle it!  From the attempts to find backers, to find the perfect location and then to both hire and retain the best staff – that’s not even getting into the cooking.  You clearly need nerves of steel to open your own kitchen especially on this kind of scale, in New York – at age 26!

The access Stabiner had to the Huertas staff to put this book out was fantastic.  I can’t imagine how she basically lived at the restaurant for a year and didn’t insert herself into the story.  Just reading along I was so nervous for the critics reviews to come in so I can’t imagine how Stabiner didn’t let her own emotions show.  I thought it was so interesting to follow how Miller first conceived of Huertas and then let the concept flow a bit to meet the wants of both his customers and reviews.  I also enjoyed the glimpses into the paths that other chefs took from Izard to others in California or Minnesota; it was very cool to see how differently things move all over the country.  

I would have liked the personal stories between Miller and his partners and staff to be more in depth, but that’s just me being kind of voyeuristic perhaps.  After all these people were still working together largely when the book was published and that might have been a bit much.  I really felt like I needed to follow this with a reread of Sweetbitter for a really juicy peak behind the kitchen walls.   

Let me just say I am hugely proud of myself for stifling the urge to Google Huertas until I finished this book!  As I read I was so extremely curious to know if they were still in business or what might have happened.  I managed to control myself – yes I don’t peak at Christmas presents either – but it was satisfying search to run as soon as I put my kindle down.  Now I know where I’d like to go when I finally visit New York one day because Miller’s food sounds delicious. If you like food and watching the restaurant industry this is definitely a fun read – and hungry read. Have snacks handy!   

Thank you Avery for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Wonder Women

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs

Published October 4th 2016 by Quirk Books

Hardcover, 240 pages

Source: ARC from Publisher

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Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.

Basically Sam Maggs has found the way to my feminist non-fiction book nerd heart with this delightful book of portrayals of awesome women.  I was totally head over heals when Maggs referred to German mathematician and physicist Amalie Emmy Noether as “a total BAMF from the beginning”.  I love non-fiction that is just fun to read on top of being full of great information.  Wonder Women doesn’t take itself too seriously even while dealing with seriously amazing moments in history.  Each “chapter” is no more than 4 pages so you’re getting information but are definitely left wanting to know more.  

I hadn’t heard of the majority of the women Maggs features in Wonder Women which was really cool too.  Marie Curie is obviously amazing – but I liked that she got a paragraph versus Bessie Coleman who had a section to herself.  Side bar – Is it just me that wanted to know more about Bessie Coleman  everytime I drive to O’Hare?  It can’t be just me right?  

Maggs gives us women from all over the world which was great – every time period, every religion, sexual orientation.  I can’t imagine how much research she had to do to go far back into women’s history in places like China and India.  So I will say Maggs must be a BAMF herself!  Wonder Women is funny and witty and tells the story of every kind of woman.  I want to put a copy into the hands of all the smart ladies I know!

“It’s made to believe

Women are same as Men;

Are you not convinced

Daughters can also be heroic?

Wang Zhenyi

Thank you so much Quirk Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: When Everything Changed

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins
Published 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
480 Pages

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This book opens with an incident in 1960, in which a 28-year-old woman was sent home from an appearance in traffic court – to pay her oil-executive boss’s speeding ticket – because she was wearing slacks. Collins quoted the magistrate who sent her home:

“I get excited about this because I hold womanhood on a high plane and it hurts my sensibilities to see women tearing themselves down from this pedestal,” the magistrate told reporters. It was a convoluted expression of the classic view of sexual differences: women did not wear the pants in the family – or anywhere else, for that matter. In return, they were allowed to stand on a pedestal.

Ugh. Vomit.

What follows is a wide-ranging survey of the (almost) 50 year span between that incident and the book’s publication. Collins uses news articles and interviews to document the big-picture changes through individual lived experiences of American women:

One day coeds were in school just to earn an MRS degree, and then – whoops – there were so many qualified, competitive young women winning the best places in the best colleges that the media worried about what would become of they boys. One year little girls were learning the importance of losing gracefully, and the next they were suing for admission to the Little League. It left many people shaking their heads, wondering what propelled such extraordinary change so rapidly.

This book was a good conversational starting point, to be sure. Collins covers a lot of ground, including the differences between reformers and radicals in the women’s movement, the role of black women caught between movements for their race and for their gender, how women were able to rise in their careers thanks to the availability of lower-class women to help with childcare and housework, and how Gloria Steinem “served as a symbol – whether she liked it or not – that women could be both militant and sexually appealing.”

The movement’s various factions had little in common. The reformers did not want to overthrow the existing system – they wanted to open the gates so that women could become part of it…the leaders of the radical wing of the women’s movement wanted to go much farther than simply leveling the playing field when it came to things like job opportunities. They were going to examine everything about American womanhood…they intended to figure out what had kept their sex in such a secondary role…If you could connect all the dots and examine the patterns, you could identify the patriarchal forces that were keeping women down.

Mostly, this book left me wanting more. Of course, that’s not so much a statement on the book as it is a statement on 2016 society, folks.

One piece of history that seems to have been lost at some point, was that in “in the early 70’s, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives actually passed legislation that would make child care available to every family that wanted it.” Huh. Did you know that? However, it was vetoed by Nixon – in a move that surprised many – and we’ve never had that kind of support again.

So in a world where women have certainly earned a seat at the table in schools and corporations and politics, there’s still a relegating to “women’s issues” things like healthcare and maternity leave and education and childcare, as women are left to solve those problems on their own.

When the young activists of the ‘60s and ‘70s had imagined what life would be like for the liberated woman…they did truly believe that the structure of society would change to accommodate their new ways of living. They thought the humanistic corporations of the future would offer flexible schedules so both the husband and wife would be able to pursue success on the job while having time to take care of the responsibilities at home. They expected that men would automatically do their share of household chores. And they believed the government would start providing early child care the same way it provided public education. They had not considered the possibility that society might remain pretty much the same as always, and simply open the door for women to join the race for success while taking care of their private lives as best they could.

I’ve paid close attention to opportunities for women in America since 2nd grade, when my mother called out my teacher for saying that the girls in our class can grow up to be mothers. “Of course they can. Mothers and what? Or did you also tell the boys they can grow up to be fathers, full stop?” I’m paraphrasing here, but the story is definitely a true fact. Anyway, for being in-tune with the topic, I did learn a few new things and new perspectives from this book. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not going to go down as an oft-quoted favorite.

Reading this general overview reminded me of some more topic-specific reads I’d like to get into.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (link to Shannon’s review on River City Reading)

The Birth of the Pill (my sister’s review)

Notorious RBG (my sister’s review)

Bad Feminist (my sister’s review)

Anything else you would add to this list?

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Review: Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and the Fastest Men in the World

Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and the Fastest Men in the World, Andy Bull

Publication: October 20th 2015 by Avery

Hardcover, 304 pages

Source: e-ARC from publisher

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A story of risk, adventure, and daring as four Americans race to win the gold medal in the most dangerous competition in Olympic history.

In the 1930s, as the world hurtled toward war, speed was all the rage. Bobsledding, the fastest and most thrilling way to travel on land, had become a sensation. Exotic, exciting, and brutally dangerous, it was the must-see event of the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, the first Winter Games on American soil. Bobsledding required exceptional skill and extraordinary courage—qualities the American team had in abundance.

There was Jay O’Brien, the high-society playboy; Tippy Grey, a scandal-prone Hollywood has-been; Eddie Eagan, world champion heavyweight boxer and Rhodes Scholar; and the charismatic Billy Fiske, the true heart of the team, despite being barely out of his teens. In the thick of the Great Depression, the nation was gripped by the story of these four men, their battle against jealous locals, treacherous US officials, and the very same German athletes they would be fighting against in the war only a few short years later.

Billy, in fact, went on to talk his way into the Royal Air Force—despite their Brits-only policy—and was there to fight the Nazis during the Battle of Britain. King of speed to the end, he would become the first American fighter pilot killed in WWII.

The exploits of Billy and his teammates make up a story that spans the globe, from Golden Age Hollywood to seedy New York gambling dens, to the most fashionable European resorts, the South Seas, and beyond.

Bobsledding, king of the Winter Olympics – who knew?  I admit I don’t think a lot about bobsledding in the years in between Olympics, but I was sold on this book from the description above.  You have to love a story of athletic determination and beating the odds to get to the Olympics – even if that wasn’t quite what this team’s story was.  It turns out that the bobsled course was a millionaires’ playground and the biggest challenge to the gold medal winning team was a paper pusher with a grudge.   This did read in parts like a society column (thanks Sarah),  but when balanced with the stories leading up the the Games I didn’t mind that.  

A sport “for those rich enough to afford it and bold enough to brave it.”  The men that made up the Olympic bobsledding team definitely were bold and overall – wow really rich.  The connections between these men and Hollywood and Tammany Hall were fascinating to me and I definitely could have read more about those links.  I liked the in depth looks at the bobbers – but I was frustrated that it was most in detail for Billy Fiske.  He was a heroic man and deserves the attention completely, but for being a book about the team, it felt like in the end it was Fiske’s story with his teammates as footnotes.  I was particularly fascinated with Eddie Eagan – from birth on a Colorado ranch to a Rhodes scholar to Olympian- and I would have loved to have read more about his post-sporting life.  While the story of how the Olympics came to Lake Placid was interesting, I would have like more of the book to have been about the Games themselves rather than the maneuvering necessary to get an Olympic bid into place.   Maybe the length of nonfiction books like Romantic Outlaws has spoiled me – I just would have liked more depth overall.  In the end this was an interesting story and will give me something to think back on when I watch the next winter Olympics.  

For the oddness of the story about the Dewey family and their involvement in Lake Placid alone this was worth the read – I’ll never look at this cataloging system the same way again.  

3 stars

Thank you Avery Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition.

Review and Giveaway: In a French Kitchen

In a French Kitchen: Tales and Tradition of Everyday Home Cooking in France, Susan Herrmann Loomis

Published June 16th 2015 by Gotham

Hardcover, 320 pages

Source: ARC received from publisher

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From Goodreads:

With In a French Kitchen, Loomis—an expat who long ago traded her American grocery store for a bustling French farmer’s market—demystifies in lively prose the seemingly effortless je ne sais quoi behind a simple French meal.

One by one, readers are invited to meet the busy people of Louviers and surrounding villages and towns of Loomis’s adopted home, from runway-chic Edith, who has zero passion for cooking—but a love of food that inspires her to whip up an array of mouthwatering dishes—to Nathalie, who becomes misty-eyed as she talks about her mother’s Breton cooking, then goes on to reproduce it. Through friends and neighbors like these, Loomis learns that delicious, even decadent meals don’t have to be complicated.

Are French cooks better organized when planning and shopping? Do they have a greater ability to improvise with whatever they have on hand when unexpected guests arrive? The answer to both is: Yes. But they also have an innate understanding of food and cooking, are instinctively knowledgeable about seasonal produce, and understand what combination of simple ingredients will bring out the best of their gardens or local markets.

This was a delicious read!  Susan Herrmann Loomis shares what she has learned living in France for years; and not just cooking French cuisine – but eating her fair share of it as well.  Loomis tells stories from her own kitchen and also those of her French friends.  Basically I want to move to France now so I can shop daily in my own village from my own produce market, cheesemonger and boulangerie.  Let’s be honestly, my life would be complete with my own cheesemonger.  I also clearly need my own French friends to teach me to cook the way that Loomis describes and invite me to dinner.

In a French Kitchen is full of stories about learning to cook with the kitchen you have (much smaller than an American kitchen) and the delightful sounding ingredients available.  How to stretch a meal for an unexpected dinner party – solved!  What to serve for dessert – last minute cake!  What to do with those leftovers- yummy!  How to find your best bread or best cheese – now I know.  This wasn’t a book to sit down and read cover to cover I’d say, but definitely one to turn to when you’re in the mood to cook or just read a chapter or two.

Each chapter is also filled with helpful tips about cookware and product selection – definitely something I can see myself going back over when I’m getting ready to cook.  The attention to detail was impressive – I lost count of the number of steps Loomis went through simply to prepare a salad.  Yet it really wasn’t too daunting for the untrained home cook.  I really plan to try a few of these recipes – such as:

Sweet Beet and Goat Cheese Towers

Roast Apple and Pear Chicken

Mushrooms and Chorizo

And I could go on!  I was going to pass my copy on but now I refuse.

Because I can’t let go of my copy of In a French Kitchen Gotham has kindly offered a copy for a giveaway.  Important question to answer here- if you had to give up one thing which would it be — Chocolate or Cheese?  

Giveaway to close 8/14 at midnight and I’ll pick a random number to win.

Merci!

Thank you so much Gotham for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

2 Mini Reviews!

Because I honestly don’t know when I would have discovered author Stacey Ballis without her bestie Jen Lancaster I decided it was appropriate to group these reviews together!

I Regret Nothing, Jen Lancaster

Published May 5th 2015 by NAL

Hardcover, 320 pages

Source: ARC won in Goodreads giveaway

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Sure Jen has made mistakes. She spent all her money from a high-paying job on shoes, clothes, and spa treatments. She then carried a Prada bag to the unemployment office. She wrote a whole memoir about dieting…but didn’t lose weight. She embarked on a quest for cultural enlightenment that only cemented her love for John Hughes movies and Kraft American Singles. She tried to embrace everything Martha Stewart, while living with a menagerie of rescue cats and dogs. (Glitter…everywhere.)

Mistakes are one thing; regrets are another.

After a girls’ weekend in Savannah makes her realize that she is—yikes!—middle-aged (binge watching is so the new binge drinking), Jen decides to make a bucket list and seize the day, even if that means having her tattoo removed at one hundred times the cost of putting it on.

From attempting a juice cleanse to studying Italian, from learning to ride a bike to starting a new business, and from sampling pasta in Rome to training for a 5K, Jen is turning a mid-life crisis into a mid-life opportunity, sharing her sometimes bumpy—but always hilarious—attempts to better her life…again.

I admit I will probably read anything Jen Lancaster writes due to my deep love for Bitter is the New Black.  I laughed until I cried more than once reading her debut.  Bright Lights, Big Ass I even laughed until I cried while reading in public.   After BL, BA her books started to feel a bit more familiar.  Sometimes still enjoyable, but they didn’t make me cry from laughing anymore.

I Regret Nothing felt like a step back towards the Jen I fell for years ago.  Yes, her problems can basically all be defined as “First World” but she’s honest about it and about her efforts to improve herself.   She was much more relatable than in Jeneration X.  I had quite a mental image of her riding an adult tricycle around Lake Forest and falling into a tourist trap in Italy.  I love her descriptions of her outings with her girlfriends- I want to go on trips like that!  So while this wasn’t cry from laughing funny for me I’d say pick it up if you need a Jen Lancaster fix!

Also, sidebars are the new footnotes  – and these always crack me up!  I would miss them if they weren’t part of her books!

Thank you NAL and Goodreads First Reads for this advance copy!

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Recipe for Disaster, Stacey Ballis

Paperback, 480 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Berkley

Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter Meeting

To an outside observer, Anneke Stroudt is a mess—her shirts are stained, her fingernails stubby, her language colorful. But, despite her flaws, Anneke’s life is close to perfect. She has a beautiful historic house to restore and a loving fiancé who cooks like a dream.

Until Anneke’s charmed existence falls apart when she loses both her job and her future husband in one terrible day. In need of a new start, she packs up her disgruntled schnauzer and moves into her half-finished home, where she throws her pent-up frustration—and what little savings she has—into finishing the renovation.

But at the first step into the house’s overhaul, Anneke is sidetracked when she discovers a mysterious leather-bound book, long hidden away, filled with tempting recipes and steamy secrets from Gemma Ditmore-Smythe, the cook for the house’s original owners. Slowly, with the help of some delicious food and Gemma’s life lessons, Anneke begins to realize that, just like a flawless recipe, she’s been waiting for the right ingredients to cook up a perfect life all along…

I am such a sucker for books set in Chicago so aside from the Jen Lancaster connection I really wanted to read Recipe for Disaster.  I love the feeling of familiarity that I get while reading about different neighborhoods in my city.  I really liked Anneke!  She’s not perfect in body or in temperament so she felt like a real person to me.  I definitely loved her friends and wanted them for myself!  I saw a Goodreads review that called this the perfect mix of HGTV and the Food Network and I love that description!  The house renovations gave me serious envy and I am definitely going to try one or two of the recipes included in the book.  I also liked the romantic drama even though it wasn’t at all what I was expecting in the end.

I did find Gemma’s journal to be a cheesey and probably unnecessary addition – but I did love how Anneke taught herself to cook from the recipes and how that helped her regain her self-confidence after her personal and professional lives were falling apart.   This book felt a lot longer than it needed to be and I wonder if without the journal it could have been a better length.  Or maybe the house details – as amazing as they were – could have been a bit shorter?

Overall a cute summer read.  Good friends, romance and yummy food!  I really need to put the rest of Ballis’ books onto my TBR.

Thank you Berkley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Ghettoside

Ghettoside: A Story of Murder in America, Jill Leovy

Amanda

Published January 27th 2015 by Spiegel & Grau

Hardcover, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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From Goodreads

On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shifted. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential American murder–one young black man slaying another–and a determined crew of detectives whose creed was to pursue justice at all costs for its forgotten victims. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of murder in America–why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.

The sad numbers of murders in Los Angeles are not the highest in the country-that goes to my own beloved Chicago.  I wanted to read Ghettoside in part to learn the one murder story Leovy focuses on, but also  to think about what could be applied from LA to the heartbreaking stories here.  This book kept me engaged throughout despite the heavy topic and the statistics.

Ghettoside takes us through the random murder of one young black man in LA, Bryant Tennelle, and also delves into the city’s murder epidemic itself.  Leovy learned the term ghettoside from a homicide detective who picked it up from a Watts gang member to describe his neighborhood:

The term captured the situation nicely, mixing geography and status with the hustler’s poetic precision and perverse conceit.  It was both a place and predicament, and gave a name to that other wordly seclusion that all the violent black pockets of the county had in common…There was a sameness to these places, and the policing that went on in them.  

Leovy looks at the LA police department and its individual homicide investigators, as well as at the offenders, their victims and at witnesses.  Tennelle’s murder is terrible but it is not the only sad story you read about. The men shot everyday in LA each have a story- and Leovy recounts as many as she can as the investigation goes on.  Its just overwhelming how many lives are lost over the course of this book.  I appreciated that Leovy discusses not only the great homicide investigators, but those that have also kind of given up to the “Monster” that is destroying communities.

Leovy makes the reader think about how deep the roots of the ghettoside epidemic go, both in distance and in time.  One must consider the distrust the marginalized have for the police as well as the frustration the police have from community members who won’t help or are unable to help them due to fear of retribution.  The facts that Leovy cites are staggering at times:

From 1994 to 2006, a suspect was arrested in 41% of the 3,300 killings involving black male victims in the city of Los Angeles according to the police department’s own data.

41%!  It not hard to see why communities feel they should be policing their own rather than going to the city.  One of the things that really struck me was a quote about a shooter – I don’t want to say who, but–

If ***** had been your average high school student somewhere else, he might have just been another misfit…  

So many young people aren’t allowed the chance to be an average high school ANYTHING.  This young man ruined his life-and so many others – without maybe ever understanding what he was getting into when he began.  Where are the answers to the ghettoside problems?  Education?  Gun control?  More money to our police departments?  Definitely in better discussions about race and violence.  Ghettoside is definitely one to read and think about.

If you want to read more about Leovy here is a link to an interview with Fresh Air.

Have you read Ghettoside?  Give me your thoughts!

4 stars!

Thank you to Spiegel & Grau and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.