Biography/Memoir

8 Delicious Cooking Memoirs

Cooking memoirs are a favorite sub-genre of mine. There is something about the intersection of food and memoir that draws me in: perhaps it is that cooking and writing both share an element of storytelling, a final message that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Or maybe it’s that they are the closest I’ll ever come to reading a memoir by a wizard: cooking, after all, is a bit like potion-making. Think about it: the ingredients, the heat, the stirring. The pots and pans that can feel like leaning over a simmering cauldron. Whatever it is that appeals, I always consume cooking memoirs like they themselves are food.

I didn’t set out to include mostly memoirs by professional chefs, but it turned out that way. Still, you’ll also find culinary historians, magazine writers, and more. The most important thing, though, is that you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy reading these books. You don’t even need to know how to cook. Even if you’re someone who avoids the kitchen at all costs, these eight cooking memoirs will invite you to look at the process of cooking as something beyond a mere necessity for survival: as a path for self-knowledge, history, and love.

Cover of Notes From a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwachi

Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein

Kwame Onwuachi is, indisputably, a powerhouse. Among the highlights of his career: competing on Top Chef, cooking at the White House, and opening a notorious restaurant. Read this memoir to learn about the intense drive and enormous talent it took for him to achieve all of this before he even hit 30 — despite an industry that isn’t welcoming for Black chefs.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly cover

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

A classic for a reason, this memoir by the late Anthony Bourdain is required reading for anyone who’s interested in the world of professional kitchens.

Cover of Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

For many, food and family are intrinsically linked. Such is the case for Marcus Samuelsson, who lost his mother tragically at only 3 years old. Born in Ethiopia, he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish family — and taught a lifelong love of food and cooking by their new grandmother, Helga.

Cover of The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jader

The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

Food is an essential part of any culture, something of which Diana Abu-Jaber is acutely aware. Indeed, born to an American mother and a Jordanian father, Abu-Jaber weaves her experiences with meals. A combination of memoir and cookbook, this is a must-read for anyone interested in culture, belonging, and food.

Cover of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

It is possible to trace one’s heritage through food — which is precisely what culinary historian Michael W. Twitty does. In this stunning memoir, he explores the roots of Southern cuisine and its relation to African American history.

Cover of A Tiger in the Kitchen : A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan moved from Singapore to the United States at 18. Years later, as a fashion writer in her 30s, she began to long for the cuisine of her childhood — so she undertook the journey of recreating those classic Singaporean dishes with her family.

Cover of Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Gabrielle Hamilton’s culinary education came from many different countries: the U.S., France, Turkey, and Italy, among others, they’re all partially responsible for the journey that led to the opening of her acclaimed restaurant Prune.

Cover of Rebel Chef by Dominique Crenn

Rebel Chef by Dominique Crenn

The first female chef in the U.S. to be awarded three Michelin stars, Dominique Crenn’s path wasn’t easy. This memoir tackles her childhood, her story of adoption, and the notoriously sexist restaurant industry in France.

Would you like to read more food memoirs? What about audiobooks about food?

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