Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim Severson (Riverhead Books)
New York Times food writer, Kim Severson’s new memoir, Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, is as funny and smart as it is edifying. Though Severson learned plenty of lessons sitting around her mother’s old oak kitchen table, “the problem is, somewhere between those early lessons and the ones I am trying to teach my young daughter, I stumbled and lost my way.”
Spoon Fed is the story of how eight powerful and very different women helped steer Severson back on track and open her up to new ways of thinking about food, writing, family and life. The lessons that she depicts here are hard-earned and universal, and Severson weaves them together into a charming and forceful narrative.
Each chapter in Spoon Fed is devoted to a different cook, recounting the lesson Severson learned from the relationship as well as a recipe that captures the cook. There is a wide and impressive range in the women that Severson profiles. First and foremost, cookbook author Marion Cunningham helped Severson understand that it was time to get sober, one of the more important lessons Severson threads throughout the entire book.
Other cooks and authors include New Orleans chef Leah Chase, Rachel Ray, and Ruth Reichl, all of whom make an impression on Severson and on the reader. Reichl (“The New York [food] writers were the most popular kids in school, and Ruth Reichl was their leader”) taught Severson that it is a waste of time to compare herself with other people when “the only ruler that matters is the one I pull out at the end of the day: Did I do my best? Did I tell the truth? Was I helpful to my fellows? And, did I make something good to eat?”
Severson also writes about her struggle to match the part of her life where she was living openly as a lesbian with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy maintained by her otherwise loving family. A valuable lesson on how to merge these two parts of her life came in understanding the unlikely family of chef Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis — a family “that a gay white man from Alabama had created with a straight African American woman forty years his senior.” It is a beautifully depicted relationship and one that helps Severson see how to refine family.
Spoon Fed is a love story — a love story with all its ups and downs, thrills and disappointments, struggles and achievements. It is a story about Severson learning to see, taste and move through the world as a sober person. It is a story about how she sought out, either unconsciously or consciously, the right women to help guide her career and life. And it is a story about accepting where she came from (one of the eight cooks featured is her mother) in order to understand where she is headed (how can she use all of this to help raise her own daughter).
In the end, Spoon Fed shows that sometimes the most essential and important lessons are “simple truths about the way life works.” A rich read.