Thursday, August 8, 2013
Hungry by Darlene Barnes
Published August 2013 by Hyperion
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review
Newly arrived in Seattle, Darlene Barnes stumbles on a job ad for a cook at the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington, Seattle, campus, a prospect most serious food professionals would automatically reject. But Barnes envisions something other than kegs and corn dogs; she sees an opportunity to bring fresh, real food to an audience accustomed to “Asian Surprise” and other unidentifiable casseroles dropped by a catering service. And she sees a chance to reinvent herself, by turning a maligned job into meaningful work of her own creation: “I was the new girl and didn’t know or care about the rules.”
Like Barnes, I have two boys, boys with big appetites. More importantly, Mini-him and his friends spent most of their high school years hanging out at our house, eating in our kitchen. It's not the same as cooking for a whole fraternity but it certainly gave me an idea for what it means to cook for a lot of hungry young men. Add to that the six years that The Big Guy's mom spent as a sorority house mom and I thought I would have a good appreciation for what Barnes was facing when she first took the job at the Alpha Sig fraternity.
A few big differences here: cooking for those boys was not my job, the most I ever had at my table was twenty, and I wasn't trying to teach them a new way of eating. Also, the enormous, well-stocked, fully-equipped kitchen we prepared many holiday meals in at that sorority house was vastly different that what Barnes had to work in.
To be honest, I was a little put off by Barnes in the beginning of the book. The more I learned about her background, the better I "got to know" her, the more I liked her. She is as honest about her personal shortcomings as she is about her failures in the kitchen. She was often overly ambitious, downright frightening to some of the young men, and left at the end of every school year with the intention of never returning.
Along the way, though, Barnes fond herself more and more attached to those boys, as they were to her. I could very much relate to her interactions with those young men - her annoyance when they disappointed her and made her job more difficult, her delight in the boys that made it a point to brighten her day, and her need to make things right for them when they needed her most.
Every year she returned reinvigorated and armed with new ideas. And every year those suppliers began to come around, seeing that Barnes wasn't alone in wanting to find food that was healthier, locally grown, and made from scratch. And guess what? Barnes even shares recipes in the book! You know how I love recipes in my memoirs (not my cozy mysteries, though) and these are all recipes I can actually see myself using. You know, if I keep reading enough books by authors spreading this message, I may just see the light yet!
By the way, Darlene knows she made an impression on me. One day I tweeted about feeling guilty for eating chips because I thought she'd be disappointed in me even if she didn't know me. And she responded! From now on, I'm only tweeting about the great homegrown tomatoes I picked from my own garden and the dressing I've just made instead of buying bottled. But I'm not killing my own chickens, Darlene; you can't talk me into that!
For other thoughts about Hungry, check out the full tour. Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.
hungryboys.net and continues the teaching, learning, and connecting through food at darlenebarnes.com. Barnes lives with her husband in Seattle, where her two grown sons also reside.