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In the Kitchen With Simon,
This review is from: Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother (Hardcover)
As historian, art critic, political commentator, essayist, biographer, and amateur cook, Simon Schama can be interesting on any number of topics. The essays in this volume are mostly from the past ten years, but there are a few from as early as 1979. They first appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. Some of the pieces appeared as chapters in anthologies, or as essays for theater programs and exhibition catalogs. Some were speeches he gave.
Schama is above all a historian, so I shouldn't have been surprised to find his historical essays a little too scholarly for my short attention span. On the other hand, I enjoyed many of the pieces on movies and art. It was fun reading how director Martin Scorcese caught him off guard by citing Kind Hearts and Coronets as an inspiration for Goodfellas. Then Schama had to scramble to give himself a crash course in horror film history when Scorcese described his other inspirations over the years.
One thought-provoking essay was about Richard Avedon's photographs. Although the book includes some illustrations to go with the art essays, Schama talked about several photographs that weren't included. His descriptions were so vivid that I had to find the images online to see for myself. They really were fascinating, and now I have become an Avedon fan, thanks to Schama.
Schama mentioned a few times in his food essays that he used Julia Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I just read a book of letters between Child and her friend and editor, Avis DeVoto (As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto), in which they discuss at length the details of the book that Child was writing. The idea was to translate French recipes into recipes that would work in American kitchens with ingredients available in America using American appliances. Schama, cooking in an English kitchen, must have had to translate the recipes yet again to accommodate English ingredients and appliances. I can imagine how many ways this could have gone wrong, but Schama seems to have succeeded.