I’m going to make a confession – Amanda Hesser’s “Food Diary” column was one of the few sections of the New York Times magazine that I read almost every week. I loved her witty, tightly written tales of life, love and the pursuit of the perfect meal, as well as the delicious-looking recipes that followed. So I was already familiar with many of the pieces in Hesser’s new book Cooking for Mr. Latte, which consists at least in part of her magazine columns.
Still, it was a pleasure reading the old pieces again, as well as discovering her new material. Hesser’s style is like a good dessert – sumptuous, but not too heavy. In Mr. Latte she chronicles her romance with the eponymous man from their first date to their eventual wedding, punctuating the love story with tales from her life as a professional foodie. Indeed, an infatuation with food seems to be the driving force in Hesser’s life – so much so that she considers it an omen of the worst kind when Mr. Latte selects a chain steakhouse with a frat-house atmosphere as the site of their first blind date and has the gall to order a latte after dinner. Apparently, this is a major sin in the food world, and earns him his affectionate nickname.
The book follows their romance, as well as Hesser’s other great love – food. Food is what leads her to bond with lights of the culinary world like Julia Child and Jeffrey Steingarten. Food is what mends the souls of her circle of friends after the tragedy of Sept. 11. Food allows her to bond with Mr. Latte, his family, her family, their friends – even strangers. For Hesser, and a growing number of people in today’s world, food isn’t just what keeps us alive – it’s our reason for living.
The book is also dotted with delicious-sounding recipes like sautéed scallops with mushrooms and frisee and truffled egg toast. However, Hesser isn’t above simple pleasures, so there also are recipes for snacks such as grilled cheese – though the cheese used in this version is the high-end Parmigiano Reggiano, not plain old American.
Cooking for Mr. Latte is, like Hesser’s column, funny, poignant and smart. It’s not only a great read, it will make you think twice about plopping in front of the television with a bowl of microwave popcorn. Better to grill up some Parmigiano Reggiano and crack open this fine book.