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Steal the Menu: A Memoir of Forty Years in Food Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 14, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307700941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700940
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Sokolov has reported on the world of food and restaurants for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Trained as a scholar of ancient Greek at Harvard, he became a journalist in Paris just at the outset of the great revolution in French cuisine inaugurated by Fernand Point and his disciples. Sokolov succeeded the redoubtable Craig Claiborne at the Times only to find Claiborne an impossible act to follow. His take on the rise of real Chinese cooking in New York earned him no little enmity, and the stresses of restaurant criticism exacted a huge personal toll. He embarked on a freelance writing career and produced one of the great books on the history and making of classic French sauces. Sokolov’s life comes full circle as the Detroit boy discovers in the evening of his career that some of America’s best cooking now appears in innovative, new midwestern restaurants. --Mark Knoblauch

Review

“For forty years, [Sokolov] affirms, he has had ‘a front seat’ at the worldwide revolution in cooking and eating…Watching his formidable mind at work deconstructing nouvelle cuisine or creating a taxonomy of French sauces, it becomes clear just how he has kept that seat for so long.”
The New York Times Book Review


“This entertaining memoir…doubles as a breezy, ranging history of American food, and the sociopolitical events that shaped it.”
The New York Observer

“As gastronomic guides go, you can’t do much better than former New York Times and Wall Street Journal restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov, whose jaunty prose in Steal the Menu gets you a tableside seat everywhere from Tennessee barbeque pits to French haute cuisine temples.”
Entertainment Weekly
           
“A knowledgeable look at the transformation of fine dining over the past half-century, viewed through the prism of the author’s personal history…foodies will find this book refreshingly different.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Reading Raymond Sokolov’s wonderful Steal the Menu is like having dinner with one’s wittiest, most erudite and charming friend, someone who knows everything worth knowing about food, its history and culture, about chefs and restaurants, about how our cuisine and our kitchens have changed over forty years—and about how to tell an authentic key lime pie from an imitation. Bon appétit!” 
—Francine Prose

Steal the Menu is a lively insider’s account of goings-on in the American food scene over the last forty years. And who better to tell this story than Raymond Sokolov, one of America’s best food writers? With his keen ear for language, Sokolov is by turns authoritative and funny, deeply informed and irreverent. This book offers up a feast for the senses as well as the mind!”
—Darra Goldstein, founding editor, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture
 
 “Ray Sokolov dines out delightfully on a life of dining out in the Western world’s most ambitious restaurants. His wit seasons his learning, which is considerable on a vast array of subjects, from classical French cuisine, to where to find the best hamburger in the Midwest, to barbecue in Texas. The result is a zesty stew, a chronicle of movements in cuisine across the decades and oceans. As an entertainment, Steal the Menu rates a full complement of stars.”
—Joseph Lelyveld, author of Great Soul
 
Steal the Menu chronicles Sokolov’s forty years as an observer of the American and international food scene with delicious wit and erudition. Peppered with reflections on culinary history and tales of extraordinary journalistic adventures, Steal the Menu is a thought-provoking and delightful read.”
—Fuchsia Dunlop, author of Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking
 
“I read Steal the Menu straight through with pleasure. The writing is stylish, sometimes provocative, always informative, with a balanced perspective on the tumultuous changes at the table we’ve all lived through.”
—Dr. Andrew Weil, coauthor of The Healthy Kitchen
 
“Raymond Sokolov is very good company on the page. Steal the Menu is proof of that. His writing is witty and engaging, but what sets this book apart is its appreciativeness: food is food for thought, something to be curious about, as well as a huge pleasure.” 
—Naomi Duguid, author of Burma: Rivers of Flavor
 
 “This is an indispensable book for anyone and everyone who takes cooking seriously.”
—Jason Epstein, author of Eating

“[Sokolov] is a good traveling companion. Reading his writing is like being driven in an old, comfortable roadster, top down, evening falling, balmy…with the promise—because Sokolov always does his homework—of something really good to eat just down the road.”
The Christian Science Monitor

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Customer Reviews

If you don't believe me, ask him.
Annie Newman
Gives an interesting insight into a lifestyle that is unique and creative.
B. Neswald
I'm not really a foodie, but I have enjoyed reading Raymond Sokolov.
Nelson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Susan Sprachman on May 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This isn't a book for everyone. It is written in a very personal style, almost as if mr.sokolov is sitting next to you at the table chatting about his life, his experiences, his meetings with people who changed the way we eat. To appreciate this book you need to appreciate its informality, the way it meanders. Give yourself to it and you will be rewarded with sokolov's humor, ability to laugh at himself and others. The book traces our history as we learned how to appreciate food, to learn how to use a wide range of ingredients, to go from bunn burned coffee to waiting in line for expresso without complaining (he doesn't tell that story, but to me it tells a lot). It also describes his various jobs in the food review world and retells anecdotes from his assorted columns. Relax and enjoy
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nelson on October 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm not really a foodie, but I have enjoyed reading Raymond Sokolov. I first began reading him when he was a columnist for "Natural History" magazine. I( have forgotten or missed the essay where he wrote about cannibalism and then gave a recipe for brains. This essay was actually sent out to anthropologists for peer review. Scathing reviews came back because at the time it was fashionable among anthropologists that cannibalism was rare among primitive peoples. His editor laughed and published the article anyway. One of his essays was about key lime pie which my wife had never had. She used the recipe and has continued to make key lime pie several times a year with it.
Sokolov has made a prosperous career of traveling extensively at other people's expense in order to write about food. It has cost the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other publications a fortune so that the rest of us can read about food even if, like me, you seldom dine in a four star restaurant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cindy on June 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Never before really sure what distinguished nouvelle cuisine from any of the other modern trends in cookery, I found this book enormously informative as well as palatable. I highly recommend this gastronomical history of the recent trends in modern cooking. I only wish I'd been able to savour most, but not all, of the dishes described. Highly recommend to anyone interested in food, which means virtually all of us.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jac Willis on July 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love food literature, but this one is a bit of a snooze. Still haven't finished it - read four books in between.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Titled after a sage piece of advice from Craig Clairborne (but also harkening to the title of Abbie Hoffman's more recognized than read Steal This Book), journalist and gastronome Raymond Sokolov recounts his life and career in Steal the Menu.  

Sokolov’s meandering career owes equal parts to luck and personal connections, which makes for a fascinating story in how a graduate student in the Classics became one of of the most prominent food writers in the US. Sokolov even returns to his unfinished dissertation in his 60s to finally earn his PhD. During his multifaceted career are such plum jobs as his several year stint has food editor at the New York Times and later Leisure and Arts editor at the Wall Street Journal. Both were high expense account gigs that let him travel the country and the world eating at the newest and the best. 

Besides giving us insight into Sokolov the man, he also discusses several of the mega trends in the food world.  Midway through the book, Sokolov  explains what "nouvelle cuisine" really is. This much maligned food development is put in the context of culinary history.  Rather than sparse servings with stylized arrangements, we see it as a response to both globalization of gourmet influences and plates for individual diners rather than elaborate platters carried table side. Sokolov gives an appreciation for the real movement behind the media hype. Likewise, at the end of the book, Sokolov addresses  modernist cuisine. Once again, he is able to tease away the flash and hype from the genuine staying power in the culinary innovations. For example, the ubiquity of sous vide cookers underscores their utility. 

If I had one complaint, it is that the personal part of the memoir fades in the second half of the book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A personal tale of what it is like to work in or run a restaurant. Gives an interesting insight into a lifestyle that is unique and creative. Has made me wonder who is in the kitchen and how much love has gone into preparing the food I eat.
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Format: Hardcover
It took four months but I made myself get through this book because growing up, "Ray" Sokolov was the "it" boy at my best friend's private sister school to Sokolov's Cranbrook, and I too worked for Newsweek. I'm satisfied that I did plow through it. It is a catalyst to read Sokolov's other works, and a lesson in keeping one's integrity in career building. Bravo. And, like Patric Kuh's Haute Cuisine book, it is an absolute marvel of culinary history, even though, like Kuh's book, it wanders all over the place, at times muting the most important parts. How Ray put together the sauce book is a memorable stand-alone-chapter. So is his history with Thomas Keller. My suggestion for the second printing is some serious editing for this "meandering" others mentioned too -- not in the content so much, but the chapter divisions, and time sequences. And Ray, you are pretty high 'faultin': I consider myself an experienced restaurant writer and while you seem to have had Russian service everyday, I've have only had Russian service twice out here in the hinterlands of California -- both at catered parties. And you forgot Lou's deli in Detroit on five-mile-road. So good it still exists (with a plastic bullet-proof window) and it made the superb, and superbly coherent, "Save the Deli" book. And, sadly, you seem to have missed the spirit of those who cooked for you... and indeed you are missing something there.
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