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Like il timpano, the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night alongside Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, the latter’s new memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, is a gastronome’s delight. It has piquant surprises tucked inside and will leave readers both sated and wanting more.

When it comes to Tucci, fans always want more. The award-winning actor and bestselling cookbook author was considered a standout guy even before his swoony Negroni tutorial video went viral at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. He’s known for scene-stealing roles in movies like Spotlight and The Devil Wears Prada, as well as in foodie films like Big Night and Julie & Julia

And like Julia Child before him, Tucci’s chef skills are as impressive as his boundless passion for eating. Such is the life of a gourmand, which he revels in and reflects on in Taste. The author takes readers on a grand tasting tour, from his childhood in Westchester, New York, to his 1980s New York City acting debut to bigger roles in major movies made around the world, where he always dined with gusto.

Tucci is quite opinionated about food. Well-placed “fuck”s signify outraged incredulity (e.g., an adult “cutting their spaghetti!!!!!!!” or the travesty of turkey in an alfredo) and offer hits of hilarity throughout. There are also dramatic renderings of memorable conversations, like the gasp-inducing time a chef told him, “I make a stock . . . of cheese.” 

He shares serious stories as well, like the pain and grief he and his family felt when his late wife, Kathryn, died in 2009, and their joy and hope when he married Felicity Blunt in 2012. He writes, too, about his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment, a grueling experience during which he had a feeding tube and worried “things would never return to the way they were, when life was edible.”

Thankfully he is now cancer-free, and via the artfully crafted recipes Tucci includes in Taste, readers can join him in celebrating food and drink once again. Under his tutelage, they might even dare to construct and consume their own timpano.

Like the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night, Stanley Tucci’s new memoir is a gastronome’s delight.

A single whiff of a truffle can be nearly intoxicating. Depending on the variety, the inhaler might detect notes of garlic, fried cheese and gym socks (white truffles) or pineapple and banana (a young Oregon black). And one person sniffing may find those aromas enticing, while another might not understand the fuss.

Those fragrances, and the allure of the fungi that produce them, left James Beard Award-winning food writer Rowan Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters) drunk on truffles and determined to learn all he could. Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of not only truffles but also the stories of people who hunt and sell them. 

The result is Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, With Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs, an engaging work that blends history with travel and food writing. Jacobsen follows his nose and curiosity across Europe and back to North America, while considering studies that extend even farther. He meets hunters and farmers whose livelihoods depend on the elusive tubers, and along the way he challenges truffle myths. For example, they grow far outside of the Mediterranean region that’s most often credited for them.

Jacobsen delves into the sometimes twisting history of this food, as well as into the science that makes truffle farming possible. Even as he examines the fungi’s complex history and analyzes questions about who gets access to truffles, Jacobsen’s writing remains accessible, unlike the costly object of his desire.

Truffle Hound is a compelling story, but Jacobsen doesn’t leave readers empty-handed when the tale ends. The book also includes a glossary of truffle types, resources for acquiring your own truffles and recipes for after the decadent fungi arrives. It’s an appropriate finish to a delicious book.

Intoxicated by truffles and determined to learn all he could, Rowan Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of this elusive, decadent fungi.

The best lifestyles books of the month will give you a creative boost from the workplace to the kitchen.

 Creative Acts for Curious People

Tell the story of your worst first date using only LEGOs. Design an ad campaign for bananas. Describe an ability you'd use to survive a zombie apocalypse. Ask someone to tell you the story of their name. These are but a few of the assignments in Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways, developed from the teachings of Stanford University's well-respected design school (known as the, where students collaborate and innovate in fresh, surprising ways for the greater good. Need a change of perspective on a project or an escape hatch from routine thinking? Want to encourage your team to loosen up, give helpful feedback or challenge biases? Look no further. "In the face of current challenges—those here today and those yet to come—we all need ways to prepare to act even when we are uncertain," writes executive director Sarah Stein Greenberg. Whether you're an independent artist seeking new approaches to your work or a leader aiming to mentor and galvanize your people, this book has an experience for you. I plan to put it to use in my own nonprofit leadership and personal creative projects.

The Tiny Kitchen Cookbook

Annie Mahle spent many years cooking for groups of 24 in the galley kitchen of a schooner, so you could say she's earned her small-space stripes. In The Tiny Kitchen Cookbook: Strategies and Recipes for Creating Amazing Meals in Small Spaces, Mahle gathers recipes requiring little cookware or fuss, including one-pan dinners, toaster oven-friendly bakes and small dishes that can serve as snacks or light entrees. She shares tips for making the best of your (limited) workspace and, in a genius section called "Use It Up," offers ideas for what to do with ingredients that tend to linger, like buttermilk, cauliflower and pumpkin puree. In the tiny (vacation) house of my dream-future, this will be the only cookbook on hand, but for now it will be a welcome addition to my home kitchen, with its charming lack of counter space.

Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys

I happen to live in the same state as Sandor Katz, and he's the sort of fellow Tennessean that makes me proud to call this place home. Katz gained an international following with his 2003 bestseller, The Art of Fermentation, the success of which took him across the globe. Now he's back with Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques, and Traditions From Around the World, which explores microbial activity in the culinary traditions of China, Peru and other places far, far from Cannon County, Tennessee. Think tepache in Mexico, sour cabbages in Croatia, pickled tea leaves in Burma, koji in Japan and much more. Part travelogue, part cookbook, part chemistry experiment, Katz's new book is a fascinating look at fermented foods the world over, and it aims, always, to be a respectful one.

The best lifestyles books of the month will give you a creative boost from the workplace to the kitchen.

When we pour a bowl of cereal or enjoy a dish of vanilla ice cream, we’re not usually thinking about the origins of these foods. We consume them because they are nutritionally beneficial or taste delicious. But even though food is a basic need (and one of life’s great pleasures!), its story is still vastly misunderstood.

For example, try to imagine a life without french fries, ketchup or tomato sauce. These are some of the most popular foods in America, yet their sources were once feared and shunned. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous, and people believed potatoes harbored an illicit connection to witchcraft and devil worship. Food and culture writer Matt Siegel dishes out these and hundreds of other little-known nuggets in his fascinating debut book, The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Matt Siegel describes the top 12 weirdest moments in food history, from Patagonian toothfish to Cuban supercows.

Organized into 10 chapters focusing on themes ranging from the history of swallowing to obsolete and dated food beliefs, Siegel shares countless “did you know?” factoids. Foodstuffs have been used as weaponry, for example, and the domestication of corn is considered an anthropological game changer on par with the discovery of fire. His choice of subjects is ever surprising, such as the conundrum that is the chili pepper. This fiery fruit (botanically, it’s a berry) contains pain-inducing capsaicin yet is consumed by humans across the world. As it turns out, spicy food is a natural preservative and “may have functioned as a primitive form of air conditioning” in hot climates.

Siegel’s book is as entertaining as it is informative, sprinkled with humorous anecdotes and connections to popular culture. He takes intel gathered from nutritionists, psychologists, food historians and paleoanthropologists and weaves together a tale that moves seamlessly from one topic to the next. Written in a style that is accessible yet scholarly, The Secret History of Food will delight and enlighten anyone looking to find out more about food’s rich backstory.

Matt Siegel takes intel from nutritionists, psychologists and historians and weaves together an entertaining, enlightening account of food’s rich backstory.

In his debut book, Matt Siegel takes intel from nutritionists, psychologists, food historians and paleoanthropologists and weaves together an entertaining account of the food we eat. These 12 surprising food facts offer a taste of the weird, wonderful backstories you’ll find in The Secret History of Food.

1. In 1893, the Supreme Court had to rule whether tomatoes were a fruit or a vegetable. This happened not long after people finally decided that tomatoes weren’t poisonous (a belief that lasted for hundreds of years, owing largely to their botanical relationship to mandrakes and deadly nightshade) and that they weren’t used to summon werewolves (the tomato’s scientific name, Solanum lycopersicum, literally means “wolf’s peach”).

2. People used to think potatoes caused syphilis and leprosy. This was chiefly because of their resemblance to the impacted body parts of the afflicted. Now, of course, potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable, largely thanks to french fries. (Tomatoes are in second place, owing largely to their use in frozen pizza and canned tomato sauce.)

3. Vanilla isn’t very “vanilla.” While vanilla has unfortunately become a synonym for “ordinary,” it’s really anything but. For starters, it’s the only edible fruit to come from orchids, even though they’re the largest family of flowers. Vanilla gets its name from Spanish conquistadors, who named it after the Spanish word for “vagina.” It has to be pollinated by hand using a technique developed by an enslaved 12-year-old named Edmond Albius. And it’s the world’s second most expensive spice behind saffron.

4. The first breakfast cereals were intentionally bland. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals were created in the 1800s by religious health reformers who believed sugar and spices were sinful and that consuming them incited bodily temptation, leading to such sexual urges as chronic masturbation and adultery—and ultimately resulting in eternal damnation.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Secret History of Food.

5. Our affinity for certain comfort foods begins in the womb. Research suggests many of our adult food preferences are influenced by flavors (e.g., vanilla) present in breast milk and amniotic fluid, which absorb flavors and odors from the parent’s diet. Meanwhile, other food preferences, such as people’s polarized responses to cilantro, go back even earlier to the genetic inheritance of specific taste receptors.

6. People used to believe personality traits and intellect were passed on through breast milk. As a result, early wet nurses were screened for things like breast shape, manners and vices such as day-sleeping and gambling addiction to ensure their milk was “child friendly.”

7. An entire ear of ancient corn used to be about the size of a cigarette. Over thousands of years, corn was selectively bred from a nearly inedible weed into the modern staple many cultures now depend on.

8. There’s a decent chance the honey in your cupboard comes from lawn weeds or poison ivy. And that’s OK. (Though there’s also a chance it’s not honey at all but a mixture of corn syrup and yellow food coloring . . .)

"Cinnamon, it was said, came from giant bird nests and had to be transported using rafts without oars on a treacherous journey that took five years and was powered by courage alone."

9. Fidel Castro was obsessed with American dairy. He spent decades funding the genetic manipulation of a dairy “supercow” named Ubre Blanca (“White Udder”) that produced four times the milk of American cows, was assigned a security detail in an air-conditioned stable and was eulogized with military honors and a life-size marble statue after her death.  

10. No one wanted to eat Patagonian toothfish until they were rebranded as Chilean sea bass in 1994. Now they sell for $29.99 a pound at Whole Foods. 

11. Spice traders used to make up stories about the exotic origins of spices so they could sell them for more money. Cinnamon, it was said, came from giant bird nests and had to be transported using rafts without oars on a treacherous journey that took five years and was powered by courage alone. Black pepper was said to grow in forests guarded by serpents that had to be scared away by setting the trees on fire, which explained why black pepper pods were the color of ashes.

12. The adage “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” isn’t really true. Rather, catching flies depends on a host of complex variables including the age, gender, sex drive, mating status, thirst and stress level of each fly—as well as the concentration of the vinegar, the time of day and the season. (Even then, some research suggests you’ll catch even more flies with beer or human semen, with one scientist calling semen “the crack cocaine of the fly world.”)

Everything you never knew about Patagonian toothfish, Cuban supercows and cinnamon sticks

Whether you’re brightening up your space or toning it down, you’ll need a sandwich after all that hard work. These three lifestyles books have you covered on all fronts.

 The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less

Christine Platt never imagined herself as a minimalist. A deal-hunter? A clotheshorse? Yes and yes. But when circumstances demanded she pare down, Platt found that a conscious, intentional approach to consumption had its pleasures—and didn’t have to mean white paint everywhere and surfaces whisked free of treasured belongings. In The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less, Platt, who has amassed more than 50,000 followers on Instagram, shares her story and espouses living with less, starting with doing the tough work of examining one’s deeply ingrained feelings about spending, saving, self-worth and joy. Another aspect that makes this a standout in the world of minimalism guides: Platt speaks directly to and for her fellow Black readers in sections throughout the book labeled “For the Culture.” As she notes, the “simple life” has been projected as white for too long—in more than one way.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: For the audiobook edition, Christine Platt’s calm, careful narration is both relatable and reassuring.

Just a Few Miles South

Who doesn’t love a really good sandwich? At Wallace Station, the Windy Corner Market and others in the Ouita Michel family of Kentucky restaurants, guests come back again and again for the life-changing sammies, and now they can create them at home. Just a Few Miles South features next-level fixings such as pimiento blue cheese, bourbon white cheddar cheese spread, Benedictine (a Kentucky staple) and bourbon mayo, sure to jazz up even the most desultory work-from-home lunch. Also in these pages are recipes for biscuits and gravy, po’boys, burgers, quiche, quick breads and other sweets, as well as for the sandwich bread itself. Brenna Flannery’s line drawings make this a strikingly beautiful book in black and white, but it’s also as deliciously down-to-earth as can be.  

A Room of Her Own

A Room of Her Own is something of a fever dream dance through luxurious trappings, a lush portraiture of the “personal and professional domains” of 20 extraordinary women, all of them powerhouse artists who “share a drive to infuse all aspects of their lives with their creativity.” With author and photographer Robyn Lea as your guide, step into their colorful palaces, ateliers, closets and studios. Gasp quietly at wall murals, enormous picture windows, rococo furnishings, gardens and courtyards. Imagine yourself into these rarefied settings in Milan, London, New York, Florence and Auvergne. This is a look at great privilege, to be sure, as much as it is a showcase of artists’ habitats, though many of these women have lived through great trauma, some facets of which are revealed in short narratives. The book’s feast of visuals—pattern, color, texture, light, symmetry, juxtaposition—suggests, in the end, the regenerative energy of the creative spirit.

Whether you’re brightening up your space or toning it down, you’ll need a sandwich after all that hard work. These three lifestyles books have you covered on all fronts.

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