Cookbooks, Non Fiction

National Dish by Anya von Bremzen


In this engrossing and timely journey to the crossroads of food and identity award-winning writer Anya von Bremzen explores six of the world’s most fascinating and iconic culinary cultures—France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Mexico, and Turkey—brilliantly weaving cuisine, history, and politics into a work of scintillating connoisseurship and charm

We all have an idea in our heads about what French food is—or Italian, or Japanese, or Mexican, or . . .  But where did those ideas come from? Who decides what makes a national food canon? Recipient of three James Beard awards, Anya von Bremzen has written definitive cookbooks on Russian, Spanish, and Latin American cuisines, as well as her internationally acclaimed memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. Now in National Dish, she sets out to investigate the truth behind the eternal cliché—“we are what we eat”—traveling to six storied food capitals, going high and low, from world-famous chefs to scholars to strangers in bars, in search of how cuisine became connected to place and identity.

Paris is where the whole idea of food as national heritage was first invented, and so it is where Anya must begin. With an inquisitive eye and unmistakable wit, she ponders the codification of French food and the current tension between locavorism and globalization. From France, she’s off to Naples, to probe the myth and reality of pizza, pasta, and Italian-ness. Next up, Tokyo, where Anya and her partner Barry explore ramen, rice, and the distance between Japan’s future and its past. From there they move to Seville, to search for the community-based essence of Spain’s tapas traditions, and then Oaxaca, where debates over postcolonial cultural integration find expression in maize and mole. In Istanbul, a traditional Ottoman potluck becomes a lens on how a former multicultural empire defines its food heritage. Finally, they land back in their beloved home in Queens, for a dinner centered on Ukrainian borsch, a meal that has never felt more loaded, or more precious and poignant.

A unique and magical cook’s tour of the world, National Dish brings us to a deep appreciation of how the country makes the food, and the food the country.

My Thoughts

It’s not often you run across a book about cooking and food that is truly a non-fiction exploration of food history, mores, and national identity. National Dish is all that and more.

Anya von Bremzen brings to the table her own form of sarcastic, witty, and irreverent assessment of the foods considered part of the identity of certain countries. She begins in Paris, a city she really, really dislikes (and she let’s you know it), where she chases down the meaning and national importance of pot-au-feu by talking to giants in the French food industry and then by making her own.

This format continues through five other cities where she explores dishes intrinsic to the city, nation, and culture of those particular locations. I learned quite a bit about those cities/countries and their foods.

Serious foodies and those in the industry will enjoy this, but the average reader like me, who has an interest in food but not a deep knowledge of world cuisine, will end up skimming a lot of the text or will alternate between the text and the internet looking up names, dates, and dishes.

This is less of a cookbook and more of a non-fiction dive into the food that makes a culture a culture, and that makes for fascinating reading.

Publication Date: June 20, 2023
Published By: Penguin Group; The Penguin Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy


Anna Olson’s Baking Wisdom by Anna Olson


Inside Baking Wisdom lies the answer to every baking question you’ve ever had (and many you haven’t yet), plus over 150 perfected recipes—both savoury and sweet—for bakers of all skill  levels. Get inside Anna’s baking brain, as she shares a career’s worth of experience to build a true masterclass in baking. In this incredible baking compendium, you will learn the hows and whys of baking through her flawless techniques, patient advice and literally hundreds of photos. This is an all-encompassing guide, guaranteed to make you a better baker.

Whether you want to perfect your pie dough or dedicate your weekend to assembling a masterpiece Torta Setteveli, there is a recipe in Baking Wisdom for you. Within each chapter, Anna’s triple-tested recipes are grouped together by commonly shared technique or principle, so you can see how one foundation recipe can be built upon to create many more complex creations. In every one of her perfected recipes, Anna leads the way with notes of baking wisdom directly included in each recipe’s method. And she does this all with one goal in mind: to help you achieve the very best baking results every time.

Also included is extensive advice on topics such as baking ingredients, tools and actions, as well as numerous step-by-step how-to guides for all types of baking techniques. If you’ve ever wondered how to separate an egg, or frost a cake, or temper chocolate, the answers are here. And if you’re interested in a deeper understanding of how and why ingredients behave the way they do in baking, or the impacts of altitude, or even how to calculate butterfat content, there’s a whole section dedicated to the science of baking, too.

 Baking Wisdom is a must-have collection of baking recipes, techniques and advice, and is Anna’s most comprehensive cookbook yet.

My Thoughts

This is the book to buy for the serious baker in your life, as well as for anyone thinking about a career in baking. Olson has produced one of the most complete and detailed baking books I’ve read in a long time. The accompanying illustrations are incredibly useful – e.g. what the three stages of beaten egg whites actually look like – and the “how to save” advice for things like seized chocolate and overwhipped cream are gold for new bakers.

It seems this was written for a Canadian audience, but American bakers will have no trouble using the book. Highly recommended.

The #1 bestselling cookbook! And the baking bible every baking enthusiast needs to own—from Anna Olson, Canada’s most celebrated baker.

“Canada’s dessert doyenne’s much-anticipated opus on flour, sugar, butter and eggs is out now – 450 pages covering everything you could possibly want to know about baking”—The Globe and Mail

Publication Date: March 14, 2023
Published By: Penguin Random House Canada
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy