“Recovering” Buddhist priest and “vegetable whisperer” Deborah Madison reveals the heart and mind of the chef behind an iconic San Francisco restaurant and numerous vegetarian cookbooks in her honest, beguiling memoir, An Onion in My Pocket. The title is derived from an opening anecdote: After spending the day making pizza with her ex, Madison attended a Spanish class and, searching her pockets for pen and paper, pulled out an onion leftover from pizza-making and plunked it on her desk. “People started to laugh. To me, it was utterly normal,” she writes.
Madison relays her life in a swingy style, moving from her childhood in Davis, California, to her college days, to her post-college migration to the San Francisco Zen Center amid that city’s counterculture heyday. She lived in the Zen community for 20 years and started her culinary path as their head cook. Later, she did a stint at Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse and eventually helped found (then helm) the acclaimed vegetarian restaurant Greens. An Onion in My Pocket offers a layered, intimate look at Zen life, the making of a soulful, artful chef and the genesis and growth of a writer. It’s also an ode to nourishment, sustenance and gratitude for the earth’s bounty, vegetal and otherwise.