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From the Pocket Change Collective series

by Gaby Melian

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-593-22349-9
Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Melian, a chef, activist, and former Test Kitchen Manager at Bon Appétit, begins this brief memoir by recounting clearing out the freezer and finding and eating one last helping of her mother’s signature fish dish following her death.

Sharing this precious meal with her brother connected them emotionally and physically with their mother one last time. In other vignettes, she ties her love of food to her happy childhood in Argentina; memories of cooking with her cousins at her abuela’s house and, in particular, her abuela’s ravioles de seso; the revelation of a sidewalk vendor’s hot pretzel that she ate following her arrival in New York City to explore a new path after studying journalism in Buenos Aires; and the physical and mental strength she developed after going into business to sell her empanadas. Melian briefly alludes to her work bringing free food education to inner-city public schools, but the stories she shares here are overall more personal and primal—food as sustenance, not as a vehicle for social justice—which feels like a missed opportunity. She also references in passing the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated industry where being Latina and speaking English with an accent affected how she was treated. Each of the individual anecdotes stands alone, without a narrative arc connecting them, but the descriptions of food are rich in sensory detail.

Clearly written, with heart and integrity, but lacking in substance: tasty but not very filling.

(Memoir. 12-18)