Author: Mayukh Sen
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: This book did a great job of showcasing the personalities and accomplishments of immigrant women who influenced American cuisine.
Tastemakers is a new entry in the group biography genre, one of many doing the good work of sharing stories of important but forgotten women in history. The women featured here are all immigrants to the United States who had a profound impact on American cuisine. Each of these women contributed significantly to the inclusion of their cuisine in main stream American cooking. Some of these women were more clearly writing for people familiar with their cuisine, such as expat communities, while others wrote for novices. How to balance authenticity with approachability (and ingredient availability) was something each woman had to determine for herself.This was a really lovely, fascinating book. The author wrote one of the best introductions I’ve read, explaining why he was drawn to these stories; what he hoped to accomplish with these biographies; and why he thought he was the right person to tell these stories. I’d love to see more authors letting readers in on their decisions in this way. Knowing where the author was coming from helped me better understand the book.
Something the author mentioned hoping to accomplish was letting us share his feeling of getting to know these women. I think he was very successful in that regard. Many of the women he wrote about had previously published biographies, so he was able to convey a lot about their thoughts and feelings. Despite disappointingly short sections devoted to each woman, I did feel like I got a sense of their personalities.
I was going to say that the author didn’t do a great job showing that these women singularly shaped American cuisine. However, revisiting the intro, I’m reminded that his goal was to disrupt the idea of the lone male genius in two ways – by showcasing the stories of influential women and by showing that the changes they made were the result of group efforts. This was also something the author accomplished. In each story, he provided helpful context, describing other women and cultural influences that promoted change.
My only complaint with this book is the usual one I have with group biographies. I’d simply have liked to spend more time with each of these women. Given that the book itself (minus bibliography) was only about 200 pages and given the amount of material available about each of these women, I’m a little perplexed by just how short each section was. I’d have happily read a book that was twice as long. It seems like enough info exists to have fleshed out these brief biographical sketches. Still, it’s pretty good when the worst thing I can say about a book is that I wanted more of it! I know a number of readers I talk to or follow enjoy books on either women in history or food. I’d happily recommend this book to anyone interested in either topic.
I like that this book breaks the mold of “male chefs are the best” and showcases women.
Me too! Hopefully we’ll see more of that in books and in the world 🙂
That sounds like an excellent book but yes, indeed, could have been longer. I will keep my eye out for it, and I’d love to read a similar book about the UK, I wonder if there is one!
Liz Dexter recently posted…Book review – Anne Tyler – “Clock Dance”
Ooh, I hope you can find something similar for the UK. While group bios almost always leave me wanting more, I do also tend to enjoy them and I love that we’re getting so many of them about interesting women lately.
I’ve read a few books recently where there has been a focus on showing that change or achievements are the result of group effort, and I’m really enjoying this shift in the way we tell histories – because of course things are never the result of one lone genius! This sounds excellent – like Liz I’d love to read something similar about the UK, though I’ve been looking for a while and haven’t really found anything yet.
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I really appreciate that more people are highlighting group efforts too! It better reflects my personal experience in science and I’ve found it to provide a far more helpful, approachable perspective on political activism as well.
Fantastic review of this one! You captured it much better than I did. I felt unsatisfied with it overall, and I probably should have gone back to the intro and better tried to understand his mission with it because it was definitely a more complex one. I was also bothered that more of their own writings weren’t used when they were available, it seemed in favor of a more straightforward biographical writeup. I think I just wanted something different from it, but I appreciate what it accomplished much more after reading your take on it 🙂
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Thanks Rennie! I often feel that your reviews have done a better job of capturing my reaction to a book than I did, so if you’re feeling the same way, it may be that it’s just easier to appreciate someone else’s review.
I also wanted something different than what this was – something longer and more in depth, for sure! – but I had a harder time criticizing it when the author had been upfront about the fact that he was trying to accomplish something else here.