The Austin Chronicle

Food, Foodies, Foodways

Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, May 23, 2014, Food

My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants

by Colman Andrews
Ecco Press, 336 pp., $25.99

For anyone who loves a good restaurant – eating in them, reading about them, and discussing them endlessly – Colman Andrews is your kind of guy, whether you recognize his name or not. Andrews is one of those people who can chronicle his entire life based on the restaurants he's frequented, and he's been responsible for seeing that many of them appeared in newspapers and magazines over the years. As one of the most influential magazine editors and cookbook authors of the boomer generation, Andrews edited the restaurant content of the fabled New West magazine during the Eighties emergence of what became known as "California Cuisine," and moved on to co-found the American version of Saveur, expanding its focus beyond just recipes to the consideration of food as an important element of culture. He's also responsible for seminal cookbooks on the cuisines of Spain, Italy, and Ireland as well as a book on Ferran Adrià and his legendary El Bulli restaurant. These days, Andrews is editorial director of The Daily Meal, a food and wine website.

What makes this particular memoir such a delectable summer read is that it's one of those books you can dip in and out of at will and always find a fascinating story – dining out with his folks and Fifties movie stars at the iconic Chasen's; discovering Mexican food, which would become a lifelong devotion; visiting the wine shops and cafes of Paris with his friend Claude; sharing a romantic tryst with Ruth Reichl in Paris (read her version in Comfort Me With Apples); exploring the cuisine of the Spanish region of Catalonia. Regardless of where the book falls open, there's a good story that will make you wish you'd shared some of Andrews' restaurant adventures with him. This book is as close as it gets.

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