Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Food and the City

Title:  Food and the City: New York's Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It
Author:  Ina  Yalof
Publication Information:  G P Putnam Sons. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0399168923 / 978-0399168925

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I grew up in Miami Beach, a child of parents who didn't cook - unless throwing frozen TV dinners into the oven every night is your idea of cooking."

Favorite Quote:  "What makes the great ones great - waiters to caterers, executive chefs to line cooks, newly arrived to fourth generational - is that when it comes to food, they know even the most minute detail can make a huge different."

Food and the City is like Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York minus the photographs and with a focus on the food culture of New York City. It is the stories of everyday people who are at the heart of the food scene of the city.

The introduction describes the people and the book. "The people with the most riveting tales to tell were, more often than not, people I'd never heard of or read about ... This book is an oral history in which the characters speech for and about themselves." This description hits at the heart of the book. These are not the stories of big name chefs or TV personalities. While I am familiar with many of the restaurants and business these people work in, I had no idea of their names or their stories.

Is this list complete or "THE" list of the food who's who of New York? Given the size and diversity of New York City, it is probably impossible to have any list be complete or solely representative of the city. As someone fortunate enough to have the ability to enjoy all that New York City has to offer, I am glad to see some of my favorite places represented in the book. I am also glad to see the book capture the diversity of the city, with people from so many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. What unites them is their love of food and their desire to share that food with others. That makes me happiest of all. I now have old favorites to go back to with a new understanding and a new list of places to try and people to meet.

The stories in the book are organized into several sections, based on some commonality - either an immigrant story, an inherited business, a clientele, or a role in the industry. What is interesting about the sections is that together each section provides a different look into the world of food. Every role within the industry has a unique perspective, and grouping the stories in this manner provides a stronger focus on that viewpoint.

Other than that, the sections in the book are really not significant because it is the individual stories that shine. The stories cover such a wide range of experiences, from a chef at Riker's Island prison to an Egyptian immigrant with a doctorate degree running the a wildly popular food card to the pastry chef at the elite restaurant Daniel. You can read the book cover to cover or just read about one and put the book down. You can flip the book open and read one at random because each one stands alone. This essay format makes the book very easy to read and navigate.

Two things I wish this book had - pictures and a food map. I would love to see the faces behind the names, the stories, and the places. Pictures would make these personal stories so much more personal. A food map is pretty self-explanatory. I want to know where to find these places, and I want to know what parts of the city this food tour covers. Yes, I can look them up, but I would love to have a visual tour as well the stories.

For those familiar with New York City, see if your favorite places are represented or find some new ones to try. For those unable to get to the City, here is a look at some wonderful people who call New York home and a unique way for the armchair traveler to wind their way through the city.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Thanks for the right on target review of my book. I'lm so glad you enjoyed it! WE decided against photos as some people prefer to do the imagining themselves and I suppose that's what the internet is now all about. I do very much appreciate your written comments.
    Ina Yalof

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. I did so enjoy the stories in your book and look forward to trying the places I have not yet tried. I also look forward to what you will write next. Happy reading and writing!