Kim Severson, who now writes for the New York Times, first found success as a food writer for the Anchorage Daily News. But by the time she arrived at the San Francisco Chronicle seven years later, she had nearly succumbed to alcoholism, despite her professional success. Spoon Fed, her new memoir, recounts her journey from strung-out restaurant rookie to spouse, mother and award-winning food writer.

Severson engages the reader with her self-deprecating humor and insight into the family dynamics that shape us and sometimes hold us prisoner. She effectively interweaves the story of her young adulthood, during which she realized she was gay, with her encounters with some of the most influential cooks in America. From each woman, she learns lessons about food and life. She also gleans some great recipes, listed at the end of each chapter.

“It would take a series of women who know how to cook to re-teach me the life lessons I forgot and some I never learned in the first place,” Severson writes in her introduction to the book. Her conversations with Alice Waters, Marion Cunningham, Rachael Ray, Ruth Reichl, Marcella Hazan, Edna Lewis and Leah Chase illustrate each woman’s passion for food, of course, but Severson is also honest enough to reveal their strengths and weaknesses as well as her own, resulting in a satisfying peek into the real lives of cooking icons.

The eighth cook Severson describes is her mother, Anne Marie Severson, an Italian-American who made home-cooked meals a daily priority. By the end of the book, with her mother facing a life-threatening illness, Severson is the one at the stove. Their story is not only about the heritage of food and family, but also about growing up, telling the truth and making the perfect red sauce.

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