on August 23, 1998
I would never have bought this book if a friend hadn't insisted that I sit down and read at least the first chapter. I like to eat food, not read about it. But Jeffrey Steingarten is a riveting, funny, argumentative, bloshy, emphatic writer. I laughed my way through this. I bought a copy for myself, then went back for two more to give as gifts. A surprising treat. In the beginning Steingarten writes about how he ate his way all the foods he had convinced himself he was repulsed by. And found some of them surprisingly good (others revolting). I would have argued that a book about food by the food critic for Vogue could only be a stuffy, pompous self-satisfied piece of writing. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. If Steingarten was an item of food I'd convinced myself I couldn't possibly like, I must now go back on myself and say, love it, DELICIOUS.
`The Man Who Ate Everything' is written by Jeffrey Steingarten, credited with being the food critic for `Vogue' magazine, belongs to a very exclusive club of American culinary columnists whose present leading light is James Villas and whose biggest star was M.F.K. Fisher. Oddly, I always had trouble appreciating Fisher's writing, while I simply can't get enough of either Villas or Steingarten. And, of these two, I am leaning to Steingarten if anyone asked me for a `good book on food'.
Steingarten's greatest strength as a writer to the amateur foodie is his ability to put himself in our position vis-à-vis the experts. He never pictures himself as an expert like Harold McGee on food science or Mario Batali on Italian cuisine or Nick Malgieri on baking or even like gifted neophyte Alton Brown on cooking technique. Unlike these professionals and teachers, Steingarten's shtick is how he gets there, not what he as learned after arriving. He is the culinary everyman's surrogate who can travel to Venice to visit Marcella Hazan for an education in cooking and eating Venetian seafood and have cooking expert Marian Cunningham fly in to teach him how to make a perfect piecrust.
Steingarten's introduction which gives an explanation of the book's title makes one seriously wonder what our dear reporter did before he was tapped to write on food for `Vogue'. His list of culinary aversions could fill several major cookbooks, and have. One wonders if Steingarten had any food related assignment before he embarked on reforming his tastes to fit his `Vogue' assignment. While I sometimes fear that my sense of taste is remarkably dull compared to those of talented chefs, my compensation is that there is literally nothing I will not eat and there are very few things I will avoid. In contrast, pre-Vogue Steingarten had aversions to kimchi, dill, swordfish, anchovies, miso, falafel, clams, and all Greek food. The introductory essay is the story of how Steingarten overcame all of these aversions except to the one for eating insects.
This first essay is a perfect exemplary of Steingarten's style. It may have been easier to say these are the aversions he overcame, but it is much more fun to describe how he overcame them. This is not to say that the book is all about the tourist to the banal. Steingarten is well prepared for most of these trips and we, along with the author, learn much in the course of his trials and errors.
While this is not a book about food science a la Robert Wolke's `What Einstein Told His Chef', there is a lot of scientific method afoot in many of the essays. My favorite is Steingarten's excursion into the world of the perfect piecrust. As dedicated `Good Eats' fans know from Alton's episode on pie crusts, the building of the perfect pie crust involves resolving two contrary properties, flakiness and tenderness while doing battle with properties of wheat flour gluten which work so well when creating bread, but which, it is said, cause all sorts of undesirable characteristics in pie crusts, known to the French as `pate brisee'. Before expert Cunningham flies in from California, Steingarten surveys the entire body of writing in English on what makes a good pie crust and comes up with a perfect procedure involving a whiz of the flour in a food processor with half the shortening followed by a careful folding in of the remaining shortening and a hint of water to bring everything together. The result is a disaster.
The lesson from this attempt is that that villain gluten is not so irrelevant to a pastry crust as some writers would have you believe. When Madame Cunningham arrives on the scene, she whips up a dandy piecrust in about as much time as it may take you to write about it. Ms. Cunningham then flies off before Herr Steingarten has gotten everything about her technique down on paper. This leads to many transcontinental telephone calls while our Jeffrey perfects his fingering with the dough and gets everything down in black and white. The really ironic outcome of this exercise and the resulting essay is that Steingarten's description of the complete procedure takes SEVEN (7) full pages. And, that is with a recipe using shortening rather than my preferred butter. I may not follow his procedure, but I certainly enjoyed his journey needed to get him to that result.
Like Villas, it is quite likely that you will find much in Steingarten's writing with which to disagree. This is part of the fun. For example, he can find little to like about roasted turkey, the national American holiday meal. Since `Gourmet' and `Bon Appetit' and Nigella Lawson (among others) are still cooking up new recipes for the maligned bird, I suspect Steingarten has not talked anyone out of eating their gigantic poultry, but it is certainly fun listening to him rant about it and, as Ms. Lawson so aptly points out, tradition may be as much or more important than the turkey's culinary virtues.
As we are approaching the dark evenings of winter, I definitely recommend this book as a classic of American culinary writing. It is our Yankee answer to B'rer Villas' writing about food from the Southern perspective. As an essayist, Steingarten has the eye and mind of Stephen Jay Gould and the wit and wordsmithing (and similarly strong prejudices) of H. L. Menchen, my two favorite American essayists.
on August 26, 2003
This is the perfect book to have when at a traffic jam, doctor's office or any of the hundreds of daily jams we find ourselves caught. I found myself laughing out loud several times at many of these admittedly wacky but witty tales.
The subject matter was in itself a winner - he touches on everything from non-fat fat to fruit ripening to when to buy certain products. And this is the best feature of the book - it is not only entertaining but also informative...the best of both worlds. He does not have the poignancy of a M.F.K. Fisher or the razor claws of the reviewer Simon Britchky or the down-to-earth charm of a Nika Hazelton but in his own way, he is just as good.
on April 24, 2003
and I would NEVER send anyone fan mail.
I'm afraid that my review of this book will be a complete cliche - ie. I couldn't put it down, I didn't want it to end, I laughed, I cried, I gained 10 pounds etc.
I found Steingarten to be insightful, hilarious, sarcastic and delightfully neurotic. I now realize the joy I missed over the years by not being an avid Vogue reader. I can't believe it took this long for my first exposure to such exquisite food writing.
I CAN'T BELIEVE NO ONE TOLD ME TO READ THIS BOOK UNTIL NOW!
As a (relatively) young person, who has recently discovered the joys of "that which is edible" - I found this book to be as informative as it was entertaining. Many of the topics that Steingarten explores were more relevant to my own culinary exploits and interests than I could have hoped. Despite the fact that I do not have the same resources and colleagues that would allow one to travel as far and wide as I'd like(and as he does), Steingarten manages to truly take the reader with him as he travels, while simultaneously making it possible for the young (or older) homebound gastronome to relate.
I will forevermore approach the subject of food as influenced by Jeffrey Steingarten. I will cook every recipe in his book. I will travel to eat. And most of all, I will overcome my food aversions (especially if stranded on a desert island and everything I would normally eat has run out).
Although I LOVED this book - I had trouble reading it without a break - since these are drawn from his monthly writing, it IS a big dose of food writing, but I took a night off and finished it with no problem.
Hope y'all like it!
on September 22, 1999
Maybe he didn't really eat "everything;" but Steingarten seems to have come close. Once one gets past Steingarten's gourmand snobbery, this is a highly enjoyable and informative book of chapters, which read more like essays, on different food-related topics. Steingarten mightily challenges fad diets and nutritional myths (like all fat, salt, or alcohol is bad for one's health) with well-researched statistics and information presented in a very humorous fashion. He becomes personally involved with each subject almost to a fault. There are even a few recipes thrown in for good measure. Buy this book and feel good again about eating!
on March 20, 2011
Jeffrey Steingarten is the grumpy judge on Iron Chef America (or was, about 5 years ago. You will see him in reruns). It was in the chocolate challenge of an episode a couple of years ago, when he said he would give all his points to the chef who could just made a perfect chocolate ice cream, that I understood him. I get you, Jeffrey Steingarten! I even wonder if the falderal of the show embarrasses him a little, though he sometimes says very nice things about the improbable concoctions put in front of him. I call into the other room to my husband, "I think this one's going to win. The grumpy guy likes his food better." And my husband comes in to see this for himself.
Mr. Steingarten has an imperturbable gravitas on the panel, and does deliver his opinions ungarnished with self-deprecation, which tends to rub third-tier show biz types the wrong way. Once a former Dancing With the Stars actress rounded on him hotly because he didn't like something she thought was wonderful. He took it with the placid aplomb of an English Mastiff accosted by an anxious Pomerianian. He isn't arrogant. I know that because I read his book. A man is not arrogant who buys ten orders of MacDonald's French fries to try out 33 kinds of ketchup. Then confesses it was too much food and he and his wife got mixed up. And in the end they decided their favorite ketchup might not be the spiciest, but with fries, "a marriage made in heaven." If he acts as if he knows he's right, it's because he knows he's right. How can you not like a know-all who goes to all that trouble to be sure?
The Man Who Ate Everything is a collection of essays packed with his musings, research, recipes, and travels in quest of culinary perfection. His thing is to search out the experts and recipes, then do it at home. But, "Cesare [his Italian informant] never warned me about making pasta near an open drawer." His crater of flour was breached and twenty egg yolks surged across the table "like molten lava rolling over a Hawaiian housing development," into the silverware drawer. Cooking methods are detailed and the physics behind certain techniques are explained. What an interdisciplinist he is, if that's a word. I appreciated the history lessons, as well as the attention to biology (I am a wildlife ecologist). He reasonably concludes that food phobias make no sense, because we are omnivores, and gets rid of most of his through determined exposure to the hated items, because he wants to be a fair and liberal food critic who eats everything.
He can't write without being funny, but beneath it he's always informed. Mr. Steingarten gets it right about plants' making poisons, and why. Boil that spinach and throw away the water, People. He is also right that we have been hoodwinked into believing that all fat is bad. I notice the dairy section of my grocery store is still loaded with awful Fat Free cheese, sour cream, half-and-half (half of what and what?); and the number of crappy Fat Free salad dressings still crowding the shelves is depressing. I was loading my cart with avocados when a woman next to me sighed and said she loves avocados, too, but(as if surprised I was still alive), "All those fatty acids!" The section Why Aren't the French Dropping Like Flies? should be required reading for anyone with a family history of heart disease.
There's a lot of fun here. He goes on a new French diet that was then all the rage (Atkins, South Beach, etc. were later knock-offs), loses 7 lbs after a month of hilarious obsessing about the number on the scales (he purchases three for comparison), but remains lovably unconverted and returns to "pies, pierogi, pistachios, pizza, popcorn potatoes, puff pastry--and that only covers the P's." He enrolls in waiters school and learns how to trick people into spending more than they intended. He travels to Memphis to judge a barbecue competition and is so in love with the winning ribs that he brings some home, and stoically stops himself from devouring them all before his wife comes home from work--his sensuous description of the meat should be rated PG-13, at least. He says I have been making mashed potatoes the wrong way, with Grandmom's hand masher. But in my defense, Mr. Steingarten's way is not to mash them at all, so I think he shouldn't call them mashed. But I can't wait to try his ketchup recipe.
Just a warning: Don't try to read too much in one sitting, no matter how much you're enjoying it. I was skimming around sampling this and that, and had already read a lot--too much, I guess--by the time I got to Primal Bread. I should have been riveted. I actually kept starter once. My donor just waved her hands when I asked where she got it. "Oh, the yeasts just naturally occur, you know. Every kitchen has them." Now I see why it never tasted very good. But my eyes were glazing over and I put the book down. Keep portion size small.
I keep very few books. But this one, I will. I already ordered It Must Have Been Something I Ate, and I wish there were others. The Man Who Ate Everything is funny, intelligent, informed. Just like Mr. Steingarten.
on October 3, 2002
At the beginning of the book I read that he didn't like blue cheese. I told my family that I was disgusted. After reading a whole chapter, I had stuffed those words back down my throat and almost choked on them! Jeffrey Steingarten is my hero. Ok, he hasn't converted me to ketchup, but he sure got really close.
If you love, or even just like food, you will keep this book by your bed like the bible! Steingarten drags you along on his trips and adventures, from his fervent defense of fats to his dreams of Olestra, from a chapter on Venice to a chapter on sustenance (don't ask me how that works)! Within a few days you will succeed in alienating your whole family with your constant talk of food. That is until you make them read it too!
This book is a MUST!!!!!! read, so please do me the honor of reading it!
on July 10, 2007
I had a mostly love, slightly hate relationship with this book. If you cut out the middle few chapters, dealing with diet and nutrition, I think it would be an easy 5 stars. As it stands it's a 4.5, rounded up.
Steingarten's writing is witty, insightful and very entertaining. His food essays are uniquely charming in that he often approaches the subject as at best a novice, and shares his (sometimes disastrous) learning experiences with the reader. His love of food shines through brilliantly in the writing; his descriptions of dishes, ingredients and techniques occasionally caused me to actually salivate, a neat trick in an all-text medium.
The breadth of topics covered is phenomenal. While he is a New York, NY foodie and that obviously colors his writing and tastes somewhat, he's nowhere near as NY/Paris-centric as many food writers from those locales are. He runs the gamut from unusual foreign cuisines to American classics to rural European local specialties. All topics are approached with the same keen palate and enthusiasm.
Steingarten only gets into trouble when he ventures into the more nutritional and social aspects of food consumption. While these are certainly incredibly important topics, his casual investigations into dietary fads, questionable eating habits and urban legends about the health effects of food felt weakly researched and myopic. While they were occasionally entertaining, they just didn't feel essential or worthy of inclusion in an otherwise outstanding collection.
Overall, highly recommended for anyone interested in food!
on January 26, 2003
Despite the Oliver Sacks-like title, this is a culinary florilegium by the food critic of Vogue and Slate. I quote the New York Time Book Review, bowing to its laconic accuracy: "Part cookbook, part travelogue, part medical and scientific treatise." Steingarten is tireless in poring over the scientific research on nutrition and cooking, and clearly loves his subject as much as he loves to try the same recipe a dozen times, hunting for perfection. He praises the greatest cooking and the finest simple pleasures (McDonald's, barbecue), investigates everything from ketchup to salt to Kobe beef, and argues for common-sense nutrition. He kicks against the Food Police: salt doesn't raise blood pressure, sugar isn't that bad for you, alcohol is good for you once a day, etc. (His essay "Salad, the Silent Killer," even if it doesn't burst the bubbles of the Food Police, serves as wicked parody of obsessive toxin-phobia and fault-finding.) To top it all off, Steingarten writes very well and is at times wickedly funny. A great food read.
on December 24, 1999
I had never heard of this author and had no expectations about what I was going to get when I read this book, and I loved it. It's full of interesting articles about why foods should be cooked certain ways (for example, how to cook potatoes for mashing so that they come out right and not gluey.) It tells stories about how to eat foods in certain cultures, and about new and interesting types of foods that you may never get to taste. There are also chapters where the author (and often his wife) review common foods such as ketchup - giving you descriptions of each brand and it's flavors and ingredients. The author has a quippy sense of humor that I found cute and relatively fresh - again, I had no expectations of what his style of humor was going to be. Apparently from reading some other reviews here there are people who like the author who feel that this book isn't his best work... but I recommend it to people who are unfamiliar with the author. A friend of mine started perusing my copy when she was over and later got her own.