Author

Kim Severson

For fans of GQ’s globe-trotting restaurant critic, Fork it Over’s collection of essays will be like déjà vu all over again. The ex-sportswriter loves lean sentences built on sharp observation and blustery opinion. He bashes chef Paul Bocuse, the food in Naples, and the over-use of the cheese cart with the same vigor he might reserve for a visiting hockey team. Reading Alan Richman is like taking a brisk walk with a very funny friend.

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Forget about Emeril, Wolfgang, and Rocco. The world’s first celebrity chef was Antonin Careme, an 18th-century Paris street urchin who shot to fame by cooking for everyone from Napoleon Bonaparte and the Rothschilds to Tsar Alexander and the Romanov court. Careme popularized, among other things, haute cuisine, the souffle, and the stiff white toques that top the heads of modern chefs. His cookbooks were also blockbusters, earning him royalties of 20,000 francs in 1832 alone.

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In this slim volume, a journalist who made his name writing about ice climbing and storm kayaking (”Dangerous Games”) takes on one perfect, $500 meal at Taillevent in Paris. The effect is enchanting. Todhunter spent a few months in the famed eatery’s kitchen, and the research shows. Between descriptions of escargots and perfect verbena ice cream, he serves up side dishes on the origins of the restaurant, the cultural history of salt, and tips on crafting a marquise au chocolat.

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America’s amateur cooking competitions can make ”Iron Chef” look like a kindergarten class. Sutherland spent a year following a few culinary dreamers and schemers through the cream of the more than 1,300 contests held annually. She captures the tension of the $50,000 National Beef Cook-Off and the big doughboy of them all, the million-dollar Pillsbury Bake-Off, where an ill-conceived garnish can spell disaster. But those moments are too few, and Sutherland’s writing can get corny (”Yum!” and ”fancy-schmancy” make regular appearances).

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In New York chef Boulud’s world, the flavor of a dish is like a good story: It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If aspiring cooks understand that narrative, they’ve taken a solid step toward success in a professional kitchen. And as the Frenchman makes clear in ”Letters,” knives must be sharpened daily, onions precisely chopped, and heat mastered. (”When you understand heat, you ‘see’ food down to its very molecules.”) Even a simple omelette is a study in dedication, purity, and skill.

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