Here at Underbrush Books, we kicked off the year discussing food, hospitality, and culture. Our January book club pick was Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community and the Meaning of Generosity. Part memoir and part recipe book, Priya Basil connects her experiences with food, different cultures, and stories from her own family lineage. She provides thought-provoking insight into the meaning of hospitality: what it means to be a guest and, in turn, the necessities of hosting. Whether you are a part of Underbrush Book Club or not, if you enjoyed Be My Guest, here are a few books to read next.
I would be remiss if I wrote this blog and didn’t mention Stanley Tucci’s recent memoir Taste: My Life Through Food. The award-winning and critically-acclaimed actor grew up in an Italian-American family and, having spent a lot of his life in the kitchen, has pieced together heartwarming and hilarious stories from his family history. Tucci also discusses the intersections of food with his career, falling in love, and bonding with his children. If you haven’t fallen in love with him on the big screen, you are sure to do so through his writing.
Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir focuses on the accomplishments - as well as admitted mistakes - of chef Kwame Onwuachi and the racism that he faced while navigating the food industry. Onwuachi is known for his time on Top Chef as well as cooking for the Obamas while they were in office. He opened his first restaurant by the age of 27. In 2019, Onwuachi won the James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
Madher Jaffrey, a well-known cookbook author, brings us the story of her Delhi upbringing in Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India. Jaffrey’s memoir is very similar to Be My Guest in that she discusses the strong connections between food, family, culture, and homeland. Again, we see memorable, personal stories from the author about how much food impacts her life and her relationships.
Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir is lauded for its mouth-watering descriptions of Southern pastry chef Lisa Donovan’s creations. At the forefront of her memoir, Donovan discusses the male-dominated food industry and the discrimination that women face despite being the backbone of the industry. She also gets personal, addressing her insecurities surrounding her career, finding her identity, and making her family proud.
With the Fire on High, written by award-winning author Elizabeth Acevedo, is the story of a teen’s journey to a culinary career while adjusting to being a single parent. Emoni wants nothing more than to join her high school’s culinary arts class and pursue her dreams. Between taking care of her daughter and her grandmother, she doesn’t have the time or the money to spend on the class. When a trip to Spain is announced, Emoni follows her passions and the advice of her friends and signs up for the class. While the novel is mainly a coming-of-age story, it does have recipes sprinkled throughout that resemble Emoni’s emotional state.
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by best-selling author Alexis Hall is similar to With the Fire on High in that our main character Rosie is forced to drop her college classes to take care of her daughter, Amelie. In an attempt to salvage her financial state, Rosie wins a spot in a televised baking competition, but not without catching the eye of two potential suitors. While one is great on paper, the other makes her feel truly alive and comfortable in her own skin. When the competition gets tough, Rosie pours all of her emotions, charisma, and love into her creations. But will that be enough to win?
I wanted to end this list with one of my favorite recent reads: The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu. The Donut Trap follows recent college grad Jasmine as she moves back in with her parents to help them run the family business. Selling donuts and pouring coffee every morning is not what she imagined for herself or her career, so when Alex - Jasmine’s unrequited college crush - comes back into the picture, things start looking up for a change. This novel is a lovely and encouraging read for anyone in a transition period in their life; not only does it hit the nail on the head as far as the struggles of being a new adult, it also addresses family dynamics, food, and how those two are inextricable from everyday life.
Thank you for checking out our January recommendations for Be My Guest: Reflections of Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity by Priya Basil! Come back in a few weeks to read about what we are reading after Olga Dies Dreaming, our February book pick.