Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review - The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition by John DeLucie

The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition
Author: John DeLucie
Year: 2009
Page: 256
Genre: Non Fiction - Memoir, food

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? No
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? NY
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

With a cooking class and a Dean & Deluca's prep gig under his belt, DeLucie left behind a comfortable finance career for the cutthroat culinary industry of 1990s New York City. Eventually, he'd become a celebrity chef with his own destination restaurant co-owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Beyond talent and drive, DeLucie had the requisite outsized ego to make it in the NYC culinary scene, persevering despite the staggering number of failures (some almost immediately, and sometimes on the word of a single reviewer) he helps open. Readers may find DeLucie's self-important prologue hard to stomach, but if they're willing to humor him they'll find a genuinely good story as well as a survey of celebrity eating habits, drawn from his popular Greenwich Village restaurant The Waverly Inn (after his visit, Karl Lagerfeld sent out for "just our roasted carrots...every day for a week"). When he puts aside his ego, DeLucie provides an excellent balance of personal details and authentic backstage culinary tales. For all the name-dropping, DeLucie's is a satisfying triumph of hard work and sticktoitness.

First Sentence:
It's another magical night at The Waverly Inn.

Why did I pick this book?
I love reading food memoir, so when I saw this on our library's new book list, I decided to borrow it - especially since he didn't start his "chef life" until 30 - never too late to have a career change!

My thoughts:
  • Disappointed. The whole book was pretty much about "I worked at this restaurant, then that restaurant, then this other restaurant, then..." and all the famous people and gorgeous girls he met. I thought it would be more inspirational, especially since he used to work as a recruiter, and then decided at age 30 to do something different

  • The chapters jumped between what restaurants he used to work at, and the "final"/latest restaurant he part-owned (The Waverly Inn). Since I don't live in NY, I haven't heard of this restaurant before, but I guess it's exclusive, and lots of celebrities go there or something. So sometimes it is a bit confusing going back and forth. I tried to see if there was a reason he decided to write it this way - perhaps to contrast the old and the new, or what mistakes he made back in the days and then applied the lessons learned nowadays. Well if that was the case, then it wasn't very clear

  • The part I liked the most was what the hotel/restaurant did on the day of 9/11 and shortly after, that was about the only part I felt the story wasn't flat

  • The crispy pan-roast chicken he cooked did sound delicious though (p155):
  • 3.5 lb chicken, butcher it, leaving the wing and thigh bones intact
  • Preheat a saute pan on high heat and add canola oil, just a scant amount, enough to coat the pan
  • When the oil starts to smoke, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper
  • Place it in the pan, skin side down
  • Next, take a brick, wrap it in foil, and place it on the chicken, allowing no air space between the skin and the surface of the blazing pan
  • Hoist the whole heavy mess and throw in the oven on as high a temperature as it will go
  • Blast it for 12 minutes or so until it is cooked
  • I did like his description between cooking and baking (p165):

    Baking is an exacting scientific endeavor. No "a pinch of this and a splash of that." Baking is classical music compared to savory cooking's jazz.

  • While I was reading this book, it very much reminded me of another book I read late last year - Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta by Pino Luongo and Andrew Friedman - both of them were of Italian heritage, both started from the bottom and worked hard to own their successful restaurants, both were from NY, both worked at the Hamptons during summer seasons... but the similarity ended there book-wise. I enjoyed Dirty Dishes a lot more (4 stars) as it really is inspirational and you can see Pino's visions. Now, I haven't eaten any of their restaurants, so I don't know how their food compared, this is purely comparing their books. Interesting, author John DeLucie mentioned Pino in his book on p181, "The partners also poached a fabulous pastry chef, Patty Jackson, who had cut her teeth with the legendary restaurateur and entrepreneur Pino Luongo, whose restaurants Le Madri, Coco Pazzo, and Tuscan Square are responsible in large part of bringing a Tuscan sensibility to New York City."

  • If you want to read food memoir, there are others I'd recommend (see below.) This is just an okay read... I almost abandoned it, but didn't, hoping it'd get better. Well, at least I was glad I read the part about 9/11 (p191-194).


Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
I'll link your review here if you wish!

Other food memoir I like:

Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta by Pino Luongo and Andrew Friedman

Out of the Frying Pan: A Chef's Memoir of Hot Kitchens, Single Motherhood, and the Family Meal by Gillian Clark

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

100+ Reading
Memorable Memoir


  1. I like that quote about baking! I've just barely started getting acquainted with my oven, and I still find it somewhat intimidating! Thanks for the foodie book recommendations, I will definitely check some of those out!

  2. @Juju - me too! I loved watching Gordan Ramsey's shows too.

    @Dana - I tried making cookies the other and it was a complete disaster... guess I really do need to follow the recipe!