I’m working my way through a stack of books received as Christmas presents, and while different both topically and stylistically, all seem to have one underlying theme; They’re all about chefs.
The United States of Arugula – How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp is less the history of gourmet food as it relates to the home cook, and more the evolution of fine dining in the US. Kamp traces the progression of the modern restaurant from the first Escoffier-trained French chefs brought to the US to the current trend towards Food Network “celebrity” chefs and the debate over their validity in the kitchen. Touching on every 20th century food icon from Julia Child to Alice Waters (about whom Kamp seems to have little good to say), he intertwines the history with the development of the careers of two major food writers, James Beard and Craig Claiborne. The book gets more than a little dishy at times (oh, those crazy kids at Chez Panisse!), but that’s part of its charm.