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Over the last 20 years, David Kamp has carved out a dual career in "proper" journalism and humor writing: like Calvin Trillin's, only far less respected and lucrative. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine and the author of national bestseller "The United States of Arugula: The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution" (selected as one of the New York Times's Notable Books of 2006), as well as the "Snob's Dictionary" series of humorous lexicons: "The Rock Snob's Dictionary," "The Film Snob's Dictionary," "The Food Snob's Dictionary," and "The Wine Snob's Dictionary."
Kamp got his start at Spy magazine, the seminal satirical New York monthly, while still in college in 1987. He was later an editor and writer for GQ magazine, and, since 1996, has been writing full-time, with his work appearing in Vanity Fair, GQ, and the New York Times, among other publications. His interests include food (the subject of "The United States of Arugula"), pro football (he has profiled Tom Brady, Troy Polamalu, and Tony Romo for GQ, but, alas, none of his beloved New York Giants), and, especially, music (he profiled the reclusive Sly Stone for Vanity Fair and also wrote of Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash's moving late-in-life friendship for that magazine). Above all, Kamp is uncomfortable writing self-aggrandizing words about himself in the third person.
Kamp, who is currently at work on another sweeping work of nonfiction, lives in Greenwich Village and rural Connecticut with his wife, two children, and dog. His author site, which is occasionally actually updated with fun stuff, is at davidkamp.com
The United States of Arugula is ostensibly about how America changed from a burgers and fries, Swanson TV dinner, baloney sandwich and Fritos kind of country to a sushi and edamame, Whole Foods, imported bottled water nation. What it really is though, is a collection of some of the best gossip I've read in a long time. This is quality stuff.
The stars of the story are food pioneers Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child. Along with accounts of their careers, we learn of their various trysts and relationships. Even Julia Child, of whom there are no revelations of extra marital affairs here, comes across as rather bawdier than we are used to seeing her. Alice Waters gets the full treatment as well. What a busy bee she's been - that kitchen at Chez Panisse sure gets hot.
Author David Kamp has really done his homework. We learn how Whole Foods, Zabar's, Dean & DeLuca, and Williams Sonoma got started. We get the lowdown on how the French cooking craze that Julia Child started morphed into Nouvelle Cuisine in New York and into California Cuisine in Berkeley. Chefs Jeremiah Tower, Thomas Keller, and Wolfgang Puck make cameo appearances. Find out how Peet's Coffee in the Bay Area begat Starbuck's.
I can't think of anyone Kamp has left out of his book. Even Jane and Michael Stern, who specialize in finding the "best" greasy spoons, and The Frugal Gourmet (remember him?) are mentioned, if only in chatty and rather informative footnotes. But back to the gossip. Here you'll find out what food critic made Emeril Lagasse cry, what Alice Waters said to Rick Bayless when he appeared in Burger King commercials, and about the feud between Mexican food experts Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless.Read more ›
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David Kamp has written a terrifically entertaining account of how America went from being a nation of iceberg eaters to a culture of baby field greens connoisseurs. In this story of America's gourmet revolution (and revolution it indeed was), the author focuses on the the real-life characters behind the Big Names: Julia, Craig, James, Alice, et al come fully to life, thanks to lots of interviews and newly reported facts. Kamp brings the chefs and their passions vividly to life and shows the role each played, however unintentionally, in getting chipotle-blueberry-Ceasar dressing onto the nation's menu.
The book isn't just for foodies, although anyone who is already interested in the subject will find a lot of new details and fresh ideas here. Like all really good non-fiction books, The United States of Arugula satisfies an appetite you didn't necessarily know you had.
This is certainly a fun read for any foodie, and author David Kamp, a writer who contributes to Vanity Fair and GQ, does a terrifically entertaining job of providing both a historical perspective and a current look at the burgeoning culinary industry. He starts with the triumvirate of influencers who shaped much of what we know of cooking today from unique perspectives - Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne. Each paved the way for those who followed - Child as the early TV pioneer who made French-style cooking accessible to housewives across the country; Beard as the author of several best-selling cookbooks, some still considered definitive; and Claiborne as the first food critic for the New York Times and also a prodigious cookbook author - all redefining our views of gastronomy over the years.
In fact, Kamp's entire book is driven by the personalities that dominate the culinary world, and as such, makes an interesting companion piece to Michael Ruhlman's "The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen". For instance, the author spends several pages on Alice Waters, the natural successor to Child, as her focus on fresh and seasonal cuisine caused a palpable shift from technique to ingredients. The revolution she started with her menus at the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant also induced a perceptual geographic shift from the East to the West Coast, where organic produce and free-range chickens entered our collective food vocabulary. From my perspective, Kamp is at his best when he makes the parallels between culinary trends and the consumerism that has evolved since WWII. He shows how the prevailing French influence was not accidental, as it came about with the influx of kitchen workers from France after the war and continues today to what kitchenware we purchase.Read more ›
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The US of Arugula closely follows the trajectory of our appreciation for fine food and its makers over the last 50 + years. The author's breadth of knowledge and understanding of these food workers who now have become like unto rock stars is nicely understated. To think: a hundred years ago, a cook was just a common household servant, or a member of the working class. Before Henri Soule, Julia Child, Alice Waters or Jeremiah Tower, one really wouldn't much consider even conversing with a chef. Now cooks are heralded like sports stars, rock stars & opera divas.
Kamp's history of this progression, and the food which accompanies these personalities is bright and treated with just the right amount of salt.
Being from Berkeley I've known some of these miscreants from Chez Panisse - and a wonderful, creative lot they are. It is fortunate to see how much the goals of these Berkeley rebels permeates current food thinking.
Kamp's writing style is both personal and objective. I only wish there were more chapters - like one on the Hawaiian fusion cuisine movement, or more on France's nouvelle cuisine, which I always attributed to the huge influx of Vietnamese cooks who came to France during & after the fall of Saigon & whose vegetable based cuisine much influenced their French bosses.
My only question to Kamp now would be: "So what will you be eating tonight?" Probably something pretty tasty!
This book is not only the perfect bed side companion on a cold night, but a great one to take on a vacation. Very well written, and very easy to read. I recommend it to all.
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