After reading lots of interesting reviews for Pim's Foodie Handbook, I had to see it for myself.
Now, I hesitate to take on a fellow foodblogger, because, should the good lord Ceiling Cat ever decide to see fit to give me a book deal, I will certainly be opening myself up for tons and tons of ridicule. However, I hope to accept the limitations of my writing and employ a harsh editor to keep me from myself. And I will never let anyone call me "Queen of the foodbloggers" on the cover of my book. I am a picky and critical reader, and I hope to be able to be a picky and critical writer, too. Or at least write for other picky and critical writers.
Nor will I fill the book with pictures of myself. While I do clean up pretty well, I am first and foremost a writer. And a cook. So if I ever do write a book, it will be filled with amazing pictures of food, and not of me drinking. If you want to see me drinking, you can stalk me around the neighborhood any day after work.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about the book...
I will admit something here: as a general rule, I prefer male writers to female writers. I know. I could never have made it through a women's studies degree. I am going to make some sexist generalizations right now: what (some) women have a hard doing in their daily lives - promoting themselves - they seem to overachieve at in writing. And while (some) men are far better at promoting themselves in their daily lives and in work, I find male writers to generally be a little more honest in their writing. Women frequently write characters how they wish they were, or how they think they are. Just look at how many female fiction writers write about how thin and beautiful their heroines are. (Some) Women have a hard time taking themselves out of the equation - just look at Service Included. Actually, let's compare Service Included and Kitchen Confidential:
Service Included: I'm cute and perfect and undervalued and singlehandedly got Per Se their 4 star review. Everyone loves me, and if they don't, they are the villain. I don't deserve a boyfriend who cheats on me, and don't understand the irony of setting out to steal someone else's man, succeeding, and then having him cheat on me. (when will you people learn? If he cheated on someone to be with you, he will do it to you. Yes, he will. Because you are no different. No. You aren't. Not in the long run.) Anything good that happens is because of how awesomely fabulous I am. All men love me, and other women are completely meaningless in my world because everything is about me, me, me. Did I mention how utterly adorable I am? and perfect? and when the restaurant where I worked decided to share my tips with the *gasp* kitchen, I scooted. and got a book deal. because that is how awesome I am.
Kitchen Confidential: Yes, I readily admit that I became attracted to the food service business because I saw how it provided people (read: young men) the chance to lead completely amoral lives and do things like sleep with brides on their wedding days behind the restaurant next to the dumpster. Because I am a man. A hard-drinking, hard-living man who isn't very nice, is proud of his ability to work through 8 kinds of hangovers, who thinks it is funny to make waitresses cry (especially the Phoebe Damrosch sort) and grab my sous chef by his nether-regions with my tongs. Because that is who I am: lecherous and largely unlikable. And I don't care. because I'm me. And you can take me or leave me. But I'm not going to work hard to get on your good side. And I might set your rear end on fire during work on the busiest night of the year when you have 100 endless tickets pouring out of the printer. And then still expect you to buy me a drink at the end of the night. I will readily admit I'm not the best because I'm not. I have stumbled into the most amazing life ever and deserve all of it and none of it at the same time. And always remember that in a parallel universe, I succumbed the the pleasures of this reckless and easy life long ago.
See the difference? I have this bizarre pet peeve where I hate people to tell me who they are. Because my perception of who you are has really very little to do with who you think you are and lots to do with what you actually do.
This is all kind of scary, because turnabout is fair play. But there you have it. This is why I do my best not to take myself too seriously, because the whole house of cards could go up in the wind in the blink of an eye.
Where are we?
Oh of course. Pim. I'm a little confused by this book as a whole, because it is so completely unorganized and without focus. It's hard for me to figure out how this book was sold to a publisher. How did the proposal go? I'm going to write a kind of handbooky cookbooky sort of thing where I am all over the place and contradict myself from page to page and talk about how low and silly everyone else is while I alienate people who actually have to work for a living and think about where their next mortgage payment will be paid? It's almost as if Paris Hilton set out to write a fashion and lifestyle handbook for the average college girl. First, have a closet full of $20,000 dresses, and an entourage, and a parade of papparazzi. Oh! and a private jet, and a live-in yogi. And a private jet. At least Ms. Hilton was smart enough to write a book about how to be a princess or whatever it was. There is just no way any average Jane, no matter how fabulous, can get any useful advice from someone who is worth $13 billion and has never had to work a day in her life for anything. I'm not criticizing her, I would just question her ability to give advice to the rest of us.
And before you start attacking me, I'll admit it: I'm jealous. Of course I am! Who wouldn't be jealous of someone who can fly to London for tea at the drop of the hat? Of course I want to be able to eat at El Bulli whenever I want! Or buy truffles under the Brooklyn Bridge! Unfortunately, even if that ever happened to me, I think I'd have a hard time separating myself from my past as a waitress.
So, is my problem with Pim? or with the book? it might be with the title: when I think of a "handbook," I think of something which will actually be helpful. An aid which implies it will meet the reader on their level and educate them about something. Foodie Handbook, though, is really more of a self-congratulatory retrospective on one person's privileged and fabulous life as a foodie princess. Or goddess. Or whatever. the person "everyone wants to be friends with" (again - who lets these blurbs on the covers of their books?! does the author not have control?).
Let's take, for example, the part about how to drink like a foodie. The section begins by lecturing the reader not to become a wine geek. Because wine geeks are obsessed with wine scores and have no opinions of their own. I happen to be married to a wine geek, so I might be biased here. But I know a lot of wine geeks. Lots of them. And none of them give a hoot or a holler what the critics say about wines. The only time wine geeks care about scores is when they have to use them to help sell wine. Scores are for the average joe. I mean, movie critics aren't for movie directors. Food critics aren't for chefs. Book critics aren't for writers. Critics are the liaisons between the pros and the masses. You use critics to vet movies and restaurants and books and music before you invest in one of these things. You might not agree with everything a critic says, but when you find a critic whose taste are relatively similar to your own, you know you can usually trust that they will steer you in the right direction. Critics are really here to save you money. And to make you happy.
Pim also tells us how painful it is to be around Wine Geeks, but then goes on to talk about how to make nice with the sommelier in a restaurant in order to get the best dining and drinking experience. I hate to break it to you, Pim, but you can't be a good sommelier without being a wine geek. And if you don't believe it, I will happily volunteer the services of Husband to put you in your place. When you can identify 50 spirits based upon scent alone, or list the region, vintage, producer, grape blend breakdown, alcohol percentage, residual sugar, and sometimes even vineyard of a wine simply by tasting it, then you may take on your loathing of wine geeks. Until then, you had better just leave it to the experts.
The drinking chapter is a perfect example of the author not being able to separate herself from the book: Pim goes on to talk about how charming she is, and how she always gets great service from sommeliers, blah blah blah. You can tell she has never had to wait a table in her life, because I am about 97% sure that sommelier, chefs, and waiters around the globe groan when they see her name on the reservation sheet. But, because we people in the service industry are amazing actors, she thinks she's just being charming when she asks the waiter to remove three ice cubes from her overfilled water glass and they comply (yes. she actually brings this up - you are an empress when dining, and should behave as such). They are just doing their job. But if I were Pim, I would never let my water glass out of my sight and still drink from it. I'm just saying.
PIm also talks about aperitifs. She talks about how much she hates vermouth. And how Lillet makes a much better aperitif. I'll just leave that one alone. Because it's just too easy.
Perhaps one of the silliest - and most pointless - parts of the book is when Pim talks about eating sushi. She begins the chapter by saying how you should not be intimidated by all the "rules" you read about sushi etiquette before you go to a sushi restaurant. She then goes on to say that you should avoid pretty much every sushi restaurant in the world (except for three very good ones, where dinner will set you back a cool $1500 per person), and that, when you get to these very good sushi restaurants - excuse me, "sushi ya," everyone will be judging you harshly and laughing at you behind your back. Wait. What? She recommends avoiding places which have "bento boxes," (like all of Japan?) and serve avocado on their sushi rolls. So, I guess that means Tensuke is out, for those of us here in Central Ohio. Despite being Japanese owned, employing Japanese sushi chefs, catering primarily to the Japanese market, and selling the best fish in the city, we shouldn't frequent it because they have bento boxes, fill some of their sushi rolls with avocados, and have sushi rolls with rice on the outside. Good thing Pim warned us. What were we thinking?
Pim then launches into her list of 50 things every foodie should do. And while some are solid - eat a perfect peach, pick your own berries, eat seasonally - some are just so laughable you kind of want to stab her with your corkscrew (it's a frequent fantasy of mine and servers 'round the world. it doesn't mean I'm crazy and violent; sometimes the easiest way for me to keep smiling at jerks I'm waiting on is to picture their head with my wine service sticking out of it. That'll shut 'em up). For example, Pim recommends saving up your money and balling out at a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Paris. Because "if you are concerned about how much everything costs you won't be able to enjoy it." Well, that's nice for you to say if you've never once worried about how you were going to pay your rent on time or be able to afford to buy a pair of pants for your new serving job so you can pay your bills, or had to sell plasma to buy Christmas gifts for your kids.
I'm worried about how much things cost most of the time and yet I'm still able to enjoy them. It's something most people who are lucky enough to have the ability to have anything indulgent have learned to do. I'm concerned about how much 600 thread count sheets cost, but I still enjoy them every time I rest my head.
I don't mean to start a class war here, but sentiments like this seem ill-timed when the economy is in the state it's in, and many of us are unemployed, or underemployed, or made half as much money last year as we did the year before. I'm glad Pim is recession-proof, but it seems insensitive to point that out to the rest of the world. Especially for someone who's made a name for themselves and gotten loads of publicity and traffic by hosting fundraisers for the UN World Food Programme.
Well, I've been pretty critical here. And I've just spent a few minutes staring out the window pondering whether I've been too harsh. I've decided no. It is, after all, my opinion. The book is scattered, chatty, poorly-edited, and self-indulgent. It is just the sort of book you would expect to see from someone whose life has been easy and has had everything handed to them. Including a book deal with no apparent editor or voice of reason.
All of this having been said, the point of writing a book is to sell it, and all of the poor reviews I read of the book guaranteed that I would march right over to the closest Borders and pay full price because I couldn't even wait to have it shipped to me from Amazon, where it would have been half the price.
So there you have it. Buy it. I wholeheartedly endorse it.