Unlike many foodie memoirs that add recipes on to the end of each chapter, Amanda Hesser – a New York Times writer – actually understands the many meanings of food. Cooking for Mr Latte, subtitled A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes, incorporates food as seduction and comfort, a means of binding together families at difficult times and celebrating the good occasions.
Ostensibly a diary of her relationship with a certain Mr Latte – aka New Yorker journalist Tad Friend – from first date through courtship, meeting each other’s families and friends, to engagement and marriage, Hesse weaves food into the warp and weft of this book in a most intelligent way. The recipes that you end up with are not so much a collection of dishes as a journey through her life. While the story of the romance is flimsy enough, what enlivens the book and gives it substance are the recipes. It’s the opposite of Nigella Lawson’s Feast, not least that Cooking for Mr Latte only contains a handful of recipes while Feast is choc-full of them. While Hesser’s interest in food makes this book interesting, the story of Lawson’s life – and the reader’s awareness of it – infuses the recipes in Feast with meanings far beyond that of a normal cookery book.
Cooking for Mr Latte is also an answer to that question “what does a restaurant critic eat when she’s at home?” and shows how the job impacts on her life – not too badly, it has to be said. Whether you’re interested in Hesser’s fabulous New York life – dinners with Jeffrey Steingarten, eating at the French Laundry – or not, you can’t but be grabbed by the recipes. From Peach Tart, adapted from her mother’s recipe; Arborio Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Zest from an idea she got when she was working at a restaurant in Italy; a recipe for Ginger Duck which originally came from her mother-in-law’s housekeeper, BaBa; to Mr Latte’s Couscous with Celery, Parsley and Red-Wine Vinegar, from his cooking debut for her, they’re all precious to Hesser and may become as valuable to the reader. All the above have made it into my file of things to try. Stay tuned for more details!Cooking For Mr Latte is published by WW Norton.