L.V. Anderson of Slate reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in NY1's twice-weekly living segment, "The Book Reader."
It's the eternal early-evening question: Should you stay in and cook, or go out to dinner? Two new books shed light on each of these options, and it turns out both are more complicated than you think.
In "Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America", out this month from The University of Chicago Press, art historian Alison Pearlman examines a sweeping trend in American fine dining. Namely, fancy restaurants have gotten a lot less fancy.
Most expensive restaurants no longer feature white tablecloths, snobby waiters and dress codes. Instead, chefs like David Chang have revolutionized haute cuisine by using a mix of highbrow and lowbrow ingredients, designs and attitudes.
Pearlman is an academic, so prepare for a refresher course in Pierre Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital. But she's a clear, engaging writer, and much of her research consists of interviewing chefs and eating at sophisticated restaurants. I recommend "Smart Casual" to anyone who's interested in the relationships among food, culture and class, or to anyone who just likes going out to eat.
But if you're to believe Michael Pollan, going out to eat has gotten Americans in a lot of trouble. Pollan's new book, "Cooked", out this month from The Penguin Press, is an impassioned, ambitious argument in favor of getting back in the kitchen.
Part memoir, part reportage, part polemic, "Cooked" recounts Pollan's efforts to learn how to barbecue, braise, bake and ferment. Along the way, he traces the history of each of these cooking techniques, and he argues that outsourcing cooking to restaurants and corporations has taken a toll on our health, environment, and culture.
"Cooked" is unlikely to be as influential as "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Pollan's 2006 masterwork. After all, cooking is already enjoying a mini-renaissance among foodies and hipsters. But "Cooked" is nonetheless as captivating and thought-provoking as "The Omnivore's Dilemma", and it's more likely to make your mouth water.
Look for reviews of "Smart Casual" and "Cooked" in the Slate Book Review at slate.com/books.