The genre you didn’t know you needed in your life… and your kitchen
Chefs memoirs are usually the go-to reads for most food fans but what about the world of food fiction? From murder mystery to high brow delicacies and pure escapist romance there are many genres to delve into and this list is just a little amuse-bouche of the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed. If any of these tales do tickle your tastebuds, I urge you to please check with you local bookseller, see if they can order it in for you, before you look further afield. Let’s try and keep it local. Alternatively, most can be found to download if you’re an e-reader. Either way, get ready to be hungry…
Bone in the Throat by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is, without doubt, the must-read memoir for any kitchen fan but did you know he dabbled in crime fiction also? Bone in Throat was his first novel about sous-chef Tommy who just wants to cook, but his mobster relatives are finding the kitchen can be used for more than just food prep. It’s a colourful, delicious blend of cooking and New York gangster vibes – a recipe for a great read. Gone Bamboo, his second wise-guy story has less food and more gore but worth a read, if you can track it down.
The Food of Love by Prue Leith
Well known to most of us as a judge on TVs Great British Menu and Masterchef, Prue is also an accomplished writer. As well as her numerous cookbooks she’s published an endearing selection of escapist romance novels full of food. Her first of these, The Food of Love, follows the age-old story of a proud family and a daughter that runs off with someone unsuitable, all set against the backdrop of the English countryside during World War 2. A well written, enjoyable love story with plenty of eating, cooking and farming to whet your appetite and imagination.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Anyone who’s ever attempted to keep a sourdough starter alive will enjoy this read. We follow Lois Cary as she goes from coding in Silicon Valley all day and collapsing at night to being responsible for a very active sourdough starter she acquires rather hesitantly from an illegal food delivery service she’s come to rely on. The ‘Clement Street Starter’ as she names it, introduces her to a whole new world in stark contrast to her usual life. It’s a breezy, light-hearted read with plenty of bread, baking, farmers market food and a host of entertaining and intriguing characters in her hip San Francisco food world.
The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
The opening line in Debt to Pleasure is ‘This is not a conventional cookbook’. And it’s true, it’s not a cookbook, or any sort of conventional book, but a rather an eclectic novel, with recipes. It follows Tarquin Winot (real name Rodney), hedonist, food obsessive, snob as he travels through France telling the story of his childhood through a series of elaborate menus and food references. The high style it’s written in makes it all the more entertaining as you ease into the murderous element of the story and you realise its actually a wickedly funny tale. And the food descriptors are exceptional. Expect to be hungry.
Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A.L. Herbert
Any cosy crime fans out there? Did you know there is an entire sub-genre dedicated to culinary cosy crime? Basically think Murder She Wrote, with food and you’ll get the idea. There always an amateur sleuth that loves to cook, a murder often by poisoning, a quirky cast of characters and a trail of clues to follow. These books are pure escapism and there are many to explore. Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A. L. Herbert follows Mahalia Watkins chef-proprietor of Mahalia’s Sweet Tea in Maryland’s USA as she solves mysteries while making soul food. Then there is Vivien Chen’s Noodle Shop Mystery series where Lana Lee finds herself playing detective in between serving up sweet and sour in Cleveland’s Chinatown. And Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swensen Mystery have as many murders as there are cake recipes. And those are just for starters.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
You may have seen the delectable movie version but trust me, the book is even tastier. Set in a fictional, picturesque French village it tells the story of chocolatier Vianne Rocher as she attempts to settle into her new rural life. The story jumps from the pages with magical descriptions of the tiny French village, the characters within it and of course the mouthwatering chocolate. It’s also part of a series, so you can continue your journey with Vianne and Anouk in The Lollipop Shoes, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé and Harris’ most recent book, The Strawberry Thief.
The Sunshine and Biscotti Club by Jenny Oliver
Romance fans need look no further than Jenny Oliver’s batch of tasty tales. Her books are full of will-they-won’t-they love stories, and her The Cherry Pie Island series are all based around kitchens and cafes. This one is set in Tuscany and follows unlucky in love Libby as she opens a cookery school with the help of her friends. You can probably guess what happens from the outset but who cares when you can immerse yourself in this world of ‘love, laughter and ice-cold limoncello’ and imagine for a bit that life is a simple as this.
Murder Most Delectable edited by Martin H. Greenberg
A collection of short stories with culinary crimes at their centre this is a raucous book filled with tales of crime and mystery that all centre around food and drink. Writers featured include the wonderful Joyce Carol Oates, Rex Stout, Stanley Ellin, Ruth Rendell and plenty more. Expect delicious deception on every page.