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.