Book Review: Buttermilk Graffiti
Reviewed by Jessi Devenyns, Fri., Oct. 26, 2018
If you've ever seen The Mind of a Chef season 3, you already know what you're sitting down to with Edward Lee's Buttermilk Graffiti. Much like the show, there are ample descriptions of Lee stuffing himself to the gills as he tries to parse flavors and dive down into the heritage of individual ingredients. His desire to literally eat his way through the United States – his restaurant research often begins on Yelp but he quickly finds the hidden gems by talking to the locals – takes him from major metropolises to fading mill towns. And at each stop, where he finds good food, it seems inevitable that he'll find a good story to go along with it.
As Lee leads you through the personal tales of individuals (they all happen to be chefs), naturally each chapter culminates with an exploration of a few prime-grade recipes. The book is divided into 16 individual chapters that can be read at random and still enjoyed fully. Each chapter comes with corresponding recipes that, although often full of ingredients that require an extra trip to the store, are a great way to experience each story with your five senses. In his ambitious attempt to shake up the idea of what American food is, Lee often employs overwrought descriptions that implore the reader to think outside the box. However, as he calls cabbage rolls "as tender as a child's tears," one has to hope that the author is being tongue-in-cheek.
With Lee, it's safe to say that in his endeavor to find the tradition behind some of America's favorite foods, his gilded illustrations are small digs at the food critics who laud the nouvelle cuisine that seems to rule Instagram feeds everywhere. Still, as part anthropologist, part chef, Lee finds a tasteful balance in his storytelling that blends each chef's history and the food they create into the wider menu that is American cuisine.
Buttermilk Graffitiby Edward Lee
Artisan Books, 320 pp., $27.50
Lee will discuss cuisine with Chris Ying at “Breaking Bread and Building Community” at 2pm Saturday, Oct. 27, in the Central Market Cooking Tent, and sign Buttermilk Graffiti at 3pm in the Adult Signing Tent on Congress.