With these funny stories, an award-winning chef reflects on the formative roles of food, family, and friendship in his life.
Former executive chef and owner of Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Blue Strawberry restaurant, Haller (Vie de France, 2002, etc.) grew up during the Depression, a poor kid in a Chicago suburb. His working-class extended family and Old World neighborhoods inspired a fascination with eclectic food combinations. Whether watching his Grandma Hazel dispatch a barnyard chicken by spinning it overhead “like David with his sling” or splashing “a little Benedictine Brandy on fried eggs after I heard Betty Grable order eggs benedict between dance numbers,” it’s clear that his insatiable curiosity about food began early. A young Italian girl, Louisa, became Haller’s childhood friend and introduced him to cannoli, which easily eclipsed his grandmother’s tapioca and butterscotch puddings. Growing up with many rural relatives, Haller paints a vivid picture of a bygone era with recollections of dinners fit for farmhands and the “womenfolk” preparing massive harvest feasts. His financially strapped, city-dwelling parents had more pedestrian palates, favoring “hot dog and beans…hamburgers, meat loaf, sloppy Joe’s…creamed chip beef on toast…or my mother’s tuna casserole.” His mother’s long hours waitressing required young Haller to prepare family meals, spurring a lifetime of culinary adventurousness, as he dished up string beans with pumpkin pie spices and lime and grape Kool-Aid baked into angel food cake for unwitting loved ones. Wit à la Ruth Reichl in Tender at the Bone (1998) invigorates these anecdotes throughout. Haller left for New York to make it as a writer and actor, often waiting tables to get by and eventually opening the Blue Strawberry in New Hampshire with some enterprising pals. Character sketches of family and friends here are as keenly observed and beautifully depicted as the food—the author’s self-effacing humor a fantastic leavening agent.
Flavorful serving of hilarious, poignant memories that will leave readers wanting seconds.