Winner of the Julia Child Book Award A James Beard Book Award Finalist When Jeffrey Steingarten was appointed food critic for Vogue, he systematically set out to overcome his distaste for such things as kimchi, lard, Greek cuisine, and blue food. He succeeded at all but the last: Steingarten is "fairly sure that God meant the color blue mainly for food that has gone bad." In this impassioned, mouth-watering, and outrageously funny book, Steingarten devotes the same Zen-like discipline and gluttonous curiosity to practically everything that anyone anywhere has ever called "dinner." Follow Steingarten as he jets off to sample choucroute in Alsace, hand-massaged beef in Japan, and the mother of all ice creams in Sicily. Sweat with him as he tries to re-create the perfect sourdough, bottle his own mineral water, and drop excess poundage at a luxury spa. Join him as he mounts a heroic--and hilarious--defense of salt, sugar, and fat (though he has some nice things to say about Olestra). Stuffed with offbeat erudition and recipes so good they ought to be illegal, The Man Who Ate Everything is a gift for anyone who loves food.
I do not read his regular contributions in Vogue magazine, so I did not know that Steingarten can also be a subtle and wonderful writer. He has been a dedicated “foodie” for at least a decade before that term became fashionable and his passion is reflected throughout this series of essays that encompass such diverse topics as the best way to bake bread, how to judge a pork rib cooking contest, why the French diet is healthy, and what makes salad so bad for you. Beyond that, he writes about his gastronomic travels around the world with such unrestrained relish that it is easy for the reader to be pulled right along with him.
Not all the essays in this book are successful; Steingarten’s penchant for “research” can be cloying and pedantic, as in the pieces on cooking with fat substitutes, trying to find best ketchup, or testing the chemical composition of water, while other essays are hopelessly dated (e.g., how microwave ovens work). However, he is more often very insightful and genuinely funny when writing about both the mundane (salt) and the more exotic (producing true choucroute). His chapters on cooking seafood in Venice and eating his way through Tunisia are nothing short of brilliant.
Steingarten does not pretend to be an expert on any particular topic but, as an attorney by training, he definitely knows the right questions to ask and he is never afraid to put theory into practice in the kitchen. This book definitely could have used better editing—at about 500 pages, it is really way too bloated for comfortable consumption—but ultimately the good does outweigh the bad.
If you like to eat, you'll like this book.
p.s. My son and I actually made the "mock apple" pie which uses Ritz crackers instead of apples. It was good -- and we fooled most of the family with it!
Steingarten's also a consummate stylist, with a distinctively playful voice. His flights of egotism are neatly balanced by self-deprecation, and his willingness to march off on quixotic food quests (e.g. trying to come up with his own recipe for good-tasting water by mixing distilled H2O with pharmaceutical chemicals).
The most humorous piece, for me, is Salad the Silent Killer where the former New York Lawyer turned gourmet-author lays out a perfect ‘brief’ on the fact that plants only have one defense – poison, Denied the option of Fight Or Flight they poison each other – and us! The piece is a beautifully witty piece of writing and guides us away from ‘lowering a snout into a fake-wood plastic bowl and shoveling greens into your mouth'.
This work neatly destroys many food and culture myth and may well be responsible for a distinct lessening lately of those horrid but obligatory ‘salads’ US restaurants always plunked down in front of us.
He is nothing if not thorough, pursuing the subjects of his current fascination with unrestrained zeal and a level of persistence that would make him fairly unbearable, if he didn’t have such a dry sense of humour.
The book is a series of travelogues as well as food explorations, as he flits all over the world with carefree abandon in search of the answers to whatever his current burning question is, apparently unrestricted by any considerations of money or other commitments. Oh for such a lifestyle.
It’s a very long book (360 odd pages) and by the end I found myself wishing he’d run out of investigative missions, especially when he made the discovery that the very best French fries need to be cooked in horse fat. And then set out to acquire some.
The chapters which discuss health research/health impacts have aged the worst, because they are an inch-deep in their information and largely outdated. The more personal chapters are much more rewarding and interesting.
Read this book as one should eat, in moderate-sized portions, and enjoy the feast.