Have just finished two food books back to back, something I don't normally do–I spending most of my days currently writing about food so I like to read away from it. But these two I did truly enjoy. Julian Barnes, The Pedant in the Kitchen, is a collection of short essays about his forays in the kitchen with his nose in a cookbook. His kitchen disasters can come off a little whiny (I am sure the man is not actually whiny), but I appreciate his anger at imprecisely written recipes for those who really need recipes to be written well. He's superb when writing about other writers writing about food.
I'd been resisting Phoebe Damrosch's Service Included, worried that its take on the restaurant per se and the people who work there would be snarky and invasive. I was pleasantly surprised to find her treatment respectful without being coy. I doubt it was embraced by the company–which surely saw it as talking out of turn–and I can hardly blame that thinking, given that she was hired as a server and surely didn't announce herself as a writer (as far as I know). From a standpoint of the writing though, Damrosch's voice is clear and natural. The narrative suffers a little from an over-reliance on her relationship with Andre, one of per se's sommeliers (they eventually move in together)–there's really not much of a story there, no matter how sweetly told–but the book is a promising debut and an accurate description of life in a world class restaurant. She has a child on the way, she said by email, so I wish her good luck with the next one!
Two interesting instructional books have just come out. Chad Ward, a writer based in North Carolina, has written a handsome volume on knives and everything you might want to know about them, and about using them: An Edge in the Kitchen: How to buy them, keep them razor sharp and use them like a pro. It's not only filled with good info put together with a good design, the writing is lively as well ("The knives found in most commercial and home kitchens are like supermarket tomatoes–designed more for sturdiness than quality.").
And Ania Catalano's, a connecticut based caterer and whole foods advocate, has written Baking with Agave Nectar: Over 100 Recipes Using Nature's Ultimate Sweetner. I was unfamiliar with agave nectar but bought some at the grocery store and have been playing with it in breads, cocktails, custards and cakes and I like it. Agave Nectar is made from the sap of the Agave plant, a cactus relative that also gives us tequila, and has a low glycemic index, meaning it's absorbed slowly into the blood, unlike refined sugars. This the first book I know of to address the subject. Agave can be expensive when bought in small quantities (and at least one pastry chef I know believes it has a bitter note); the author recommends buying in bulk over the internet. It's a whole food, organic and better for you and your kids than sugar.