Fancy Food, Big City

food-whore

A couple years ago, a recent college grad named Tia moved to New York City with a dream: to work in food. She loved cooking and writing about cooking, and after some college success doing just that, she had the feeling she could pull this off in real life. Turns out, to make a real go of a career in food, Tia’s going to have to make a deal with a devil of a food critic.

That’s the set up of Jessica Tom’s first novel, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceitwhich came out last month. In the book, Tia contends with a New York City food world that Jess draws as both glamorous and cutthroat. There are run-ins with celebrity writers, a stint working at an Eleven Madison Park lookalike, a roommate with a secret, nights filled with sumptuous tasting menus, days spent amassing a wardrobe from Bergdorf’s, plus an affair with a handsome chef. There are lies and disguises aplenty, too.

“I wanted to write a page-turning novel,” Jess told me recently over a not-very-glamorous lunch in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. (She had a hummus plate, I had a cheeseburger and fries–hardly the pork and snail dumplings with effervescent chive oil Tia eats twice in the book!)Salade Nicoise | Food Whore

Juicy plot twists and ludicrously fine dining episodes aside, this book intersects beautifully with two BGSK concerns: first, eating; and second, eating while building yourself a career in the big city, particularly a career that coincides with your passions. Tia’s life has a lot more intrigue than mine did when I started this blog (or ever…), but I thought the story of a food up-and-comer would resonate with you guys. I asked Jess a few questions about the book after we’d both polished off our lunches. Read on for what she had to say about food, cooking, New York City, and going after what you love, then pick up a copy of the book to read during cold, long winter nights. 

BGSK: In your book, we find out early that Tia is a home cook. Her talent, discovered in college, is to connect serious at-home culinary experiments with heartfelt essays about her family. But almost as soon as Tia lands in the big city, she all but stops cooking. Why did you set up the story like that?

JESS TOM: There’s such a contrast between restaurant food that’s elegant and refined, but also ridiculous, and the home-cooked food. All the home-cooking moments were when Tia is getting down to fundamentals, being herself. Her rise, originally, was credited to something she made.

BGSK: You mean the dacquoise cookies, which appear early on. Tia owes the fact that she even makes it into the food world at all to this particular recipe for cookies and the fact that they were called out in the New York Times. They’re complicated–Tia has to seek out the ingredients at specialty stores–and they sound delicious. How’d you select that as her preeminent recipe?

JT: I wanted the cookies to be something you could make – and I personally like dacquoise. They’re different and original, and they could realistically have gotten this attention without being unbelievable for a college student to make.

BGSK: Apart from those cookies, one of the only times we see Tia cooking, she’s really just “cooking” – assembling the ingredients in a salad niçoise at a bodega’s buffet. Even though the buffet sounds kind of sad, the salad actually seems appealing. How does that fit into the home cooking-restaurant contrast working here?

JT: SHe’s been taken away from her true self at this point. She goes to this bodega, though, and she make a good salad. Later, she goes to a restaurant and thinks, “that salad was bad.” Even though it tasted good. She’s not being true to herself, because in reality, she’s not in it for the fame.

BGSK: But at this point in the plot, she’s going after the fame. Hm.Salade Nicoise | Food WhoreBGSK: Like Tia, you’re a young person pursuing a dream in New York City. You wrote a novel, while working other jobs, paying rent, having a life, etc. What advice do you tell aspiring writers and foodies about going for it?

JT: Figure out what makes you different, and cultivate that. The only person who’ll achieve it is you. You can be envious, you can go deep into research mode, but you’re the only one who can push your idea forward. It’s an interesting and fertile time, I think. There are so many avenues for doing this. Be yourself, as a writer. Don’t try to write what you think others want to write.

Get the recipe for Jess’s beautiful, bodega-inspired Tuna Niçoise Salad here. And, to find out what happens to Tia when she tries to write and cook the way that others think she should–and so much more–get your copy of Food Whore here. Happy reading! (Niçoise photos are by Jess.)

 

 

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