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Food is entertainment

Originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News, June 2008; written by Kelly Johnson.

Number two on the Institute of Food Technology's top 10 food trends of 2007 was "Food is entertainment". I think they were a little late with that bit of news, I have thought food pretty entertaining for years. Of course they were talking about the Food Network and all the celebrity chefs and such. Luckily Julia Child taught me that it's not such a big deal to be a chef and I loved watching her in "The French Chef" long before cooking was so cool. That doesn't mean I turn my nose up at the new legion of food TV stars or anything else to do with food or cooking, and luckily the library helps me keep my passion fed!

The library has a book or two from nearly every Food Network star; Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen, Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten and of course Alton Brown all have a place on our shelves. I like all these folks, but I have a tendency to wander a bit farther than the mainstays. For example I love Nigella Lawson and happily the library has several of her books; Feast, Nigella Bites and Nigella Express. Though some of the recipes can be a bit elaborate, she always has some great fast, easy items that you can quickly put together. Nigella Express is an especially weekday friendly choice.

Now if you want some bad boy chef stuff, you want Anthony Bourdain. Not only does the library have his original Kitchen Confidential, we also have The Nasty Bits, a collection of essays, and most recently No Reservations; around the world on an empty stomach a wonderful photo album of Bourdains travels with snippets and stories. Bourdain has a truly unique voice and reading his work is very much like watching his shows.

Another great male chef is Jacques Pepin, and not just because he did a wonderful series with Julia Child; Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, that the library has in book format, and also as a DVD series. Pepin has been cooking since the age of 13, dropping out of school to train in Lyon, France. His career has ranged from working at the Howard Johnson test kitchen to cooking for John F Kennedy to his Emmy winning work with Julia. The library also carries his most recent PBS series Fast Food My Way in book and DVD, as well as his wonderful biography The Apprentice : my life in the kitchen.

Now, if you just want to read about food and don't need any fancy pants chefs OR recipes - and believe me I understand that perfectly - there are a ton of great food reads on the shelves. You might be confused about all this celebrity chef stuff and gourmet everything at the grocery store, if so you might find some answers in David Kamp's the United States of Arugula; how we became a gourmet nation. His good humored history of how America went from mac and cheese to pasta and parmesan (fresh grated mind you, none of that shaker stuff!) is a fun, interesting read.

For a slightly different type of food reading you could explore Endless Feasts; sixty years of writing from Gourmet edited and introduced by Ruth Reichl. This collection of essays features more than thirty authors including James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Madhur Jaffrey, E. Annie Proulx and oddly enough, Ray Bradbury. My favorite story here is written by Jane and Michael Stern - of Two for the Road fame - and features the Havana Cafe of Havana, North Dakota. Of course I like most everything the Sterns have written, check the catalog for more of their food books.

A few more food books that I love include; America's Great Delis Recipes and Traditions from Coast to Coast by Sheryll Bellman it not only has some great recipes, but also histories of delis and the food they serve. Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel and Faith D'aluisio is fascinating to me. Looking at a weeks worth of food for a family in Chad makes me feel a bit guilty when I think of the bounty in my kitchen, but beyond that getting a peek into the kitchen cupboards of folks around the world is just really neat. I only wish there was more information on what some of that stuff is! And finally James Lileks Gastronanomalies; Questionable Culinary Creations from the Golden Age of American Cookery is just as funny as it sounds - and the pictures are much, much worse.

Food really is very entertaining, if you don't believe me take a look at any of Julia Child's work; books or TV shows, and the library has quite a few to pick from. So if you are looking for a different kind of great read try out the "cookery" section - that's Dewey number 641 and check something out!

While you are checking out the great food books you might bring your kids (or your grandkids or your neighbor's kids) in to participate in one of the three great summer programs happening at the library. Little ones can be part of the read-to-me program while the older kids can "Catch the Reading Bug". Teens are invited to "Metamorphosis" with the library's first ever summer program for teens, sponsored by the Teen Advisory Group and 19 community co-sponsors. All the programs have great prizes, so visit soon!

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