A mildly diverting memoir by New York Times food columnist O’Neill.
The author recalls in remarkable detail her childhood in Columbus, Ohio, her education and apprenticeship as a chef and her career as a New York restaurant reviewer. The oldest child and only girl in the O’Neill family, she functioned as a deputy mother to her five younger brothers and learned how to feed a crowd at an early age. With lots of dialogue, she recreates “mostly true” scenes from the 1950s and ’60s that feature a blue-collar father who believed that baseball was the answer to puberty’s raging hormones, a socially grounded mother and a chaotic swarm of kid brothers. (Dad had trouble keeping Mike, Kevin, Pat, Robert and Paul straight, and the reader may, too.) In hopes of finding a place where girls matter as much as boys, Molly relocated in the mid-1970s to Northampton, Mass., where she started the Ain’t I a Wommon Club, a restaurant serving “non-violent cuisine.” Following her vegetarian/feminist/collective period, she became a cook in Cape Cod’s Provincetown, studied cooking in Paris and found success as a chef and a food-and-wine columnist in Boston. Big names (Lillian Hellman, Julia Child) begin to enter her story here, and by the mid-1980s, she had moved on to New York City. Her account of preparing for the job of restaurant critic is absorbing, as is her description of performing the actual work. Various brothers drift in and out of her East Coast life, and when the youngest—Paul—makes it into the major leagues as a New York Yankee, the family returns to the fore. Although the author strains to make them colorful, they really aren’t all that fascinating. What never fails to generate interest, however, is O’Neill’s skill at describing food and its preparation.
Tasty, feather-light entertainment.