Tender at the Bone

“Most mornings I got out of bed and went to the refrigerator to see how my mother was feeling . . . the more odd and interesting things were in the refrigerator, the happier my mother was likely to be.”

In Tender at the Bone, chef Ruth Reichl describes her experiences with cooking, from her early years warning guests not to touch her mother’s “Everything Stew” to her job as a food critic for a San Francisco magazine. Reichl always loved food, and understood the power it had over people. Cooking for her was “a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.”

This memoir has a perfect combination of humorous and serious. It starts off very lighthearted, with a story from Reichl’s childhood: her mother wakes her father up to taste something, which he spits out immediately and describes as “cat toes and rotted barley” and “antique anchovies and moldy chocolate.” Her amusing stories and conversational tone draw the reader’s attention, and keep it through the tougher sections of the book, where Ruth confronts racism, drugs, weight problems, and more.

Reichl guides the reader with a steady hand until about three-quarters of the way through the book, where the narrative becomes a little choppy. Each chapter has a different setting with different people and different problems, and although Reichl may be staying true to the twists and turns of her life, the constant changes disrupt the flow of the story. For instance, in the last chapter she introduces the character Cecilia, gives quite a bit of background information on her, and then ends the book five pages later! However, if you trust Reichl to develop the story on her own, the abrupt switches won’t bother you.

I would recommend this book to any reader. Don’t think it is just for chefs–I am not particularly fond of cooking (I like eating a whole lot more) and I found the book to be both interesting and enjoyable. But there is an additional reward for those who like cooking: Reichl includes a recipe at the end of every chapter.

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