Dinner with Edward makes you hungry; makes you want to know this charming man, a gentleman nearing
100 who keeps on actively living and working--finding purpose; makes you want to visit Manhattan and its butchers, markets and delis. It makes you want to change into your casual clothes, get rid of less interesting yet necessary chores, and dive into the kitchen to create meals that make you and your loved ones happy and connected.
This is a charming, slender memoir about more than a year’s worth of dinners and conversations between Edward, a widow in his 90s, and Isabel, a
New York Post reporter in middle age. The story, ostensibly about preparing and sharing food, is truly about a deep friendship, a way of life, about sharing stories that are important as life lessons. Edward has recently lost his wife
of 69 years, Paula, and Isabel goes through a difficult divorce and moves twice during the book’s timeframe. The prose is clear and straightforward, the paragraphs, pages, and chapters short, and the memoir is Edward-, not Isabel-, centered.
Isabel goes to Edward’s apartment on Roosevelt Island once a week to share his multi-coursed, all homemade dinners, primarily French-inspired, begun by martinis “ice-cold, dry and crisp.” Everything is just so--Edward does not skimp on ingredients, insists on just the right steak, just the right oysters, just the right wine to accompany each course. When Isabel brings a gift wine, most often Edward puts it in his wine cellar if it is not a near-perfect fit with his dinner. Some readers might find him a bit of a food snob, of course, but more, he is a food artist, concerned with every aspect of food’s preparation and presentation. The author explains, “Edward was neither a snob nor an insufferable foodie. He just liked to do things properly.” The reader’s mouth waters over lovingly described meals with hearty soups garnished with fresh herbs, homemade pastas and sauces, and desserts such as popover flambé, topped with apricot jam and cognac.
Theirs is a true friendship, unmarred by the large age gap. “He was teaching me the art of patience, the luxury of slowing down and taking the time to think through everything I did,” reflects the writer. Edward offers tips on Isabel’s finding another man, on dressing to show off her body to better effect, on wearing a bit of makeup (“We need to work on your feminine enhancement,” reflects Edward), and on needing and finding true love. Isabel offers an ear for Edward’s endless reminiscences of Paula and their long life, and an open, willing palate for Edward’s next gourmet offering. After they have known each other for more than a year, he occasionally lets Isabel act as his sous chef.
She calls Edward for his recipes, which she tries duplicating in her tiny kitchen. Sometimes she is successful, but not if she doesn’t follow his plans exactly. I, for one, am glad that recipes are not included, as they too often are in many books now. Cooking is as much about intuition and magic as it is about rules. Some dishes are partially described so they might be, more or less, duplicated.
Isabel’s divorce becomes final, and she moves from Roosevelt Island back to Manhattan, making it inevitable
that she will see Edward less frequently. He continues to send her hand-written letters “on cream-colored [embossed] stationery” and his poems, and they keep in touch by telephone.
Edward, an old-fashioned yet open-minded man, is 92, and becomes 94 by book’s end. The narrative becomes especially poignant as Isabel moves further away and as Edward becomes more weak and frail, almost fainting on occasion. These occurrences are to be expected, and their friendship remains solid, despite less time together. Edward has other friends, and one of his daughters moves across the street in his final years.
Somewhat reminiscent of Tuesdays with Morrie, this slim memoir feels more significant to this reader, in part, because I am a foodie and my husband is a chef. Being mentored by older people has been an important part of my life. As a couple, my husband and I have discovered the importance of sharing food--and stories--to friendship and establishing community.
Dinner with Edward is highly recommended. It is a quick read, full of substance. Isabel Vincent, who remains in New York City, has written four other books on astonishingly diverse topics.