Team Review: Tender at the Bone

The first dish was a consommé that tasted as if a million chickens had died to make it.
~ Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone

Team Review: Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
282 pages
Genre: Memoir
Published by: Random House, 1998
Indiana’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars  Pete’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: Come back for second or third helpings, if not for the story then for the recipes.

Spoiler-free review

When this was picked for our book club, I was not expecting to enjoy it. I’m definitely not a foodie, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading about someone else’s passion for cooking. But it was great—both as a memoir and as food writing.

Indiana: Agreed. Reichl had an odd upbringing, which was what initially drew me into the book. Her mother is an eccentric person, especially when it comes to cooking. There are several sections when young Reichl (at eight or nine years old) is cautioning her friends and family not to eat the food her mother has prepared because it had gone bad.

Pete: I don’t understand how her mother was allowed to cook, especially after she nearly killed people with her cooking for the second or third time. It was quite stressful to read. Reichl did a great job of pacing this book. It has a sense of an overall arc, but many of the chapters could stand very well on their own as short stories—the chapter Serafina in particular stood out.

Indiana: When I first began that chapter I felt like everything was suddenly off-kilter. I couldn’t understand why it would be anything to remark on to have a mixed race roommate during college. It took me a second to realize that chapter took place in the 1960s. I also liked that toward the end of the book, Reichl details the period in her life when she lived in a commune of sorts, which sounded so stressful to me. But it also sounded like the perfect movie premise (and like a good place to be a chef).

Pete: She divides the different phases of her life so tidily—it kept me always looking forward to the next chapter and to her next move. The scattering of recipes throughout chapters was well done, and she really managed to make this book as much about food as it was about her life. Every story had to do with food in some way, and it made me think about the number of memories I have around dinner tables or preparing a dish for some gathering. Food has never been a huge part of my life, but it’s really a part of everyone’s lives.

Indiana: It is and I think Reichl points to how much of her life and the lives of others can be brought together by food. By including the various recipes that she mentions using or learning in the story, it’s like she wants to include you in her life story as well. Reichl is definitely an author I would love to share a meal with.

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