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Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist Paperback – April 4, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

James Villas is in love with the notion of himself as a bon vivant. The food and wine editor of Town & Country magazine for many years, a cookbook author, and a contributor to Esquire, Villas has chronicled gourmet living through the foodie revolutions of the last three decades. In Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist, he writes about discovering and developing his palate in France in the early 1960s, the Advent of Julia (Child, of course), the rise of nouvelle cuisine, and the return to regional cooking. Though he claims to be a supporter of down-home American cuisine, Villas is deeply enamored of all things jet set. His idea of glamour has everything to do with champagne and what he always refers to as "sufficiencies of caviar." His memoir unfolds as a series of portraits of great chefs, restaurateurs, and eaters he has known--chapters are devoted to everyone from James Beard and Paula Wolfert to Jeremiah Tower and Paul Bocuse. These friends are portrayed lovingly and wickedly; Villas is a self-described "old queen" who loves nothing more than a good gossip. Sometimes the storymongering can get a bit breathless; he describes at least three times a meal aboard the SS France with Salvador Dali and an ocelot. But even his name-dropping has a certain charm: here's a sophisticate who still gets starry-eyed about his own extraordinary good fortune. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Digital edition.

Review

With curiosity and style, North Carolina-born James Villas has covered the food world for more than 30 years in both magazines and books. Even so, he says, "I've never been a conventional food writer, which means I stay in trouble all the time," For his readers that means honest, well-researched writing that makes no apologies or concessions to the trends of the day. His career took off in 1972 when he was hired to be the food and wine editor at Town & Country, For 27 years, Villas wrote on every topic imaginable, from American caviar and California wines to wild mushrooms and authentic barbecue. He was one of the first writers to champion the burgeoning American food movement in the 1970s, trying, as he puts it, "always to expose American cooking and food, elevating it as much as I could." Today, Villas continues to write cookbooks and essays that explore his subjects in the most authentic way possible. Between Bites, his memoirs, is a collection of essays published last year. "I've always had this insatiable thirst to get to the bottom of things," says Villas, "and I will go to the ends of the earth for the answer," (Bon Appetit, October 2003)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1st edition (April 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471448273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471448273
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Memoirs can be thoroughly boring if not done particularly well. Fortunately this one is well-written indeed. The first half of it deals with the author's coming of age as an academic and transition into a food writer. The second half of the book mainly consists of accounts of famous chefs and famous diners whose lives have intersected with his.
Villas is a outspoken (and perceptive) critic of nouvelle cuisine, fusion and all of the unfortunate food-foolishness of the past couple of decades. He savages some big-time chefs like Wolfgang Puck and is simply dismissive of many more famous names.
The author is also a creature from another time, say the 1930s, and is a terrible(wonderful?) snob. More than anything he reminds me of Lucius Beebe, a mid-century American bon vivant who managed to live a gilded life and then write about it.
The book misses occasionally when Villas gets a little too bitchy, but perhaps these slight lapses are as revealing as the more elegant parts. An interesting and somewhat disturbing revelation is just how many food writers live lonely and seemingly desperate lives. Perhaps only the ones in New York are this way.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jim Villas might be described as an `old school' American epicure, sharing many opinions and attitudes with James Beard and Craig Claiborne and less with American cuisine which can be traced to the influence of Julia Child and Elizabeth David by way of Alice Waters. He explicitly sides with Jeremiah Tower's version of the origins of California cuisine, versus the version whereby most of the credit is given to Chez Panisse in general and Alice Waters in particular. Were it not for his obvious respect for M.F.K. Fisher, Paula Wolfert, and Elaine Whitelaw, I would suspect him of the same misogeny I detected in Tower's memoirs.
His memoir, `Between Bites' is one of the first books of essays on the culinary I have read and for that I owe to Mr. Villas my introduction to the importance of M. F. K. Fisher, Richard Olney, Elizabeth David, and Paula Wolfert as fellow writers in culinary journalism and education. For this I am very grateful. Villas also devotes sizeable chapters to Craig Claiborne, Paul Bocuse, Beard, and his mother, with whom he co-wrote two cookbooks. This was also the first book which really filled out for me the importance of Craig Claiborne to American culinary opinion when Claiborne was in his prime. For a second, similar opinion on Claiborne, see Jaques Pepin's memoir `The Apprentice'.
I did find it a bit surprising that he had very kind words about Emril Lagasse and less than kind words about Wolfgang Puck. As Emril embodies the old New Orleans / Comander's Palace cuisine and Wolfgang embraces a version of the `California Cuisine', this tends to confirm my view of his `old school' orientation. I'm sure this had nothing to do with the fact that Emril provided a glowing blurb for the back of the book's dust jacket.
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Format: Hardcover
James Villas has capped a brilliant career with this enthralling and entertaining biographical and gourmand journey. It is mouth-watering reading, in more ways than one. Villas is amoung two or three "foodies" who can write. I think of M.F.K Fisher and another North Carolinian like Villas, Jean Anderson (no relative).
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By A Customer on April 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The author may be a rebel--but what a delicious rebel he is. How wonderful to read about the world of gastronomy, without the usual cliched embellishments. Elegantly written, even when the gloves are off, I found myself concurring with every act of hedonism! Hooray for good taste!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like Villas. I enjoy his wit and his writing. I like his outlook on food and how food and our world in general have gone down the toilet. I own a lot of Villas books. I wish there were more. Villas would not use the word "vintage" like it's batted around today. I like him for that too. If you have read Villas, who is an old man now (like me), and enjoy him you'll like this book. I suspect it may be one of his last. But I hope not. There's still a lot of crap that needs his sharp eyed takedown.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I ordered this memoir after my father had given me a copy of Villas's (and the seemingly indomitable "Martha Pearl"s) "My Mother's Southern Kitchen". I liked the cookbook very much and have regularly returned to it (mostly, I'll admit, for Mrs. Villas's "tips"....which, as Mr. Villas has written in his memoir, invariably turn out to be RIGHT). I was very struck by the obviously mutually-respectful and loving, but regularly contentious (only regarding over-the-stove matters, however) relationship between Villas and his mother.

I'll also admit to having had a few reservations about the memoir, given some of the readers' reviews I'd read. Turns out that every single one of the criticisms levelled at Villas in those (very few, I should also emphasize) negative reviews were more than adequately, gracefully, amusingly, and promptly addressed by Mr Villas in the first few pages of the memoir. In short, I doubt that there's anything "critical" you could say about the man that he hasn't already heard. Regarding his introduction, I was reminded of one of Muriel Spark's narrators, who declared of another character " _______said and taught me a lot of things, which I later productively ignored".

In any case?....I finished reading Mr. Villas's memoir this morning and immediately ordered two copies (one for a friend, and another for my father, in return for his introducing me to Mr. Villa's work). Perhaps the best recommendation I could give for this book, given that other readers have covered its many fine points, is that neither my father nor the friend for whom I ordered copies care much, if at all, about food. Both of them do, however,appreciate fine writing....and I expect my father will agree with me that Mr.
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