If you're not interested in food skip this piece. No, I take that back. You don't have to be interested in food as in Food. What I want is people who like to eat. Do you like to eat? Good, then keep reading.
Everyone talks about Alice Waters. Alice Waters this, Alice Waters that. Berkeley is Heaven (unless you're Caitlin Flanagan, in which case it seems to be a special circle of hell, and I don't know why she doesn't move to the East Coast, but there it is). Fa la la la la la. I'm tired of it, and I am really damned tired of reading proclamations on food and eating from someone who just can't seem to get it that most of the country does not live in Berkeley, California. I know I'm not the only person who's got serious Alice Waters Fatigue. So for those of you who like to eat, and to Eat, and who like food and Food, and who like reading about it, let me make a recommendation. I promise I'm not about to tell you to read Michael Pollan.
Please go read any book by John Thorne.
I know he gets reviewed sometimes Big Places and I'm always so thrilled for him. The food magazines have always sung his praises. But at the same time, not once in my life have I ever talked to someone who knew who he was. I've never had someone idly look at my bookshelves and see all the John Thorne and go, "Oh, you like him too?"
I had no idea who John Thorne was until I read Laurie Colwin (sorry to bring up her name again, but it's true); in one of her cookbooks she mentions a pumpkin tian that he wrote about. I have no interest in eating pumpkin so I didn't really think about John Thorne again until several years later when I was browsing in a bookstore (why do I remember this? it was Atticus) while coming down with a cold. On a whim I bought Thorne's Simple Cooking, and while nursing my cold at home I read the book from cover to cover and could not believe how incredibly good it was.
I mean not that it was an incredibly useful and informative cookbook -- which it is -- but that it was just so well written. John Thorne is, hands down, in my top five American writers writing today. But nobody reads him except diehard foodies (as far as I can tell). Even though he's smart and opinionated and reasonable and funny and wonderful. Even though the books are beautifully designed, about as appealing as books can be (all published, I think, by Farrar, Straus, Giroux, and designed by Jonathan Lippincott, who's from New Haven by the way; Lippincott has designed some of the most handsome books in my recent memory, and Thorne's are right up there)...
One of the great things -- the noble things -- about John Thorne is that he writes about food that is born out of and meant to be eaten in climates harsher than the Bay Area. Thorne currently lives in Maine, I believe (or maybe the Berkshires, I can't remember now); he's writing always about food for cold climates. Food in places that really do have four very distinct seasons, maybe even plus mud season. Which is a totally different thing from what Alice Waters is always pontificating about, which is food in what would be for most of us a seriously alternate reality. John Thorne's reality is much more like mine. It's sloppy. It's not really very virtuous. It's not about having truffles on hand at all times, or mincing about talking about the divine walnut oil I found in the South of France. It's about buying a bag of beans because it's cheap and then figuring out the best way to make the best damn meal out of it (his chapter on baked beans -- oh, how I love it, almost as much as I love baked beans). Foodies who are in New Haven ought to read John Thorne, for sure, but foodies everywhere who want an antidote for Alice Waters Fatigue (not recognized by the DSM-V, but maybe in future editions) should please go find his books.
Simple Cooking Outlaw Cook Serious Pig Pot on the Fire Mouth Wide Open