“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” said James Beard, and these two delicious new books are cases in point.
Both feature a protagonist chasing a food dream, one in the Big Apple and the other all over Europe. And both have enough mouthwatering descriptions of meals to send you rummaging for something to munch on.
The fun, frothy Food Whore has traces of The Devil Wears Prada, except instead of a cruel magazine editor, the villain is the entire Manhattan restaurant scene. Tia Monroe dreams of writing cookbooks and enrolls in the prestigious New York University culinary masters program. But when her bid for an internship with a famous cookbook author is botched, Tia begins ghostwriting columns for weaselly New York Times restaurant critic Michael Saltz, who has lost his ability to taste food.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: Saltz gets to keep his coveted job at the Times, and Tia gets the thrill of seeing her words in print, albeit under someone else’s byline. She also gets access to Saltz’s private account at Bergdorf Goodman. In no time, down-to-earth Tia becomes a fashionista who breaks up with her steadfast boyfriend and starts dating one of New York’s hottest chefs. But Tia quickly learns how brutal it is in the culinary world, where restaurants will do anything to get a good review.
Food Whore is the first novel from Jessica Tom, a Brooklyn writer who graduated from Yale University and, much like Tia, wrote restaurant reviews for the school paper. Tom nails the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, whipping up a remarkably entertaining debut.
In Vintage, Bruno Tannenbaum is on the other side of his career from young Tia. After years as a food columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Bruno is sliding into obsolescence. He once wrote a little-known novel he was proud of and a gimmicky best-selling cookbook he was less proud of. But now, he’s sleeping on his mother’s couch (wife kicked him out for cheating), unemployed (newspaper let him go) and drinking too much (see previous). When a Russian restaurateur enlists Bruno’s help in solving the mystery of a lost vintage of French wine, Bruno senses a story that could revive his career and prove to his family that he still has what it takes to provide for them.
Vintage is a whirlwind of a book, with the charmingly rough Bruno spinning through France, Moldova and Russia as he chases down the wine, which he believes was stolen by the Nazis during World War II. He finds romance with a French winemaker, intrigue in a Russian prison and answers where he never expected them.
Author David Baker is the director of the documentary American Wine Story, and he delivers a walloping good time in Vintage. While the book is clever and funny, it’s also a tender meditation on the power of food and wine to heal even the sorest of hearts. Bruno is a character for the ages, a passionate foodie who finds his own winding road to redemption.
This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.