Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America

Norton. Nov. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9781324004516. $26.95. COOKING
James Beard Award–winning food writer Sen makes the scope of his ambition clear in the introduction to this illuminating work: he seeks to “trouble the canon of culinary brilliance” by highlighting and contextualizing the stories of seven immigrant women (cookbook authors, teachers, and chefs) who transformed concepts of international cuisine in the United States. Sen’s biographical essay format allows each woman’s life story to shine. The sketches span 70 years of culinary history, including Buwei Yang’s influential 1945 book How To Cook and Eat in Chinese and the career of Jamaican chef and restaurateur Norma Shirley, who died in 2005. The other subjects are Iran’s Najmieh Batmanglij, Italy’s Marcella Hazan, France’s Madeleine Kamman, India’s Julie Sahni, and Mexico’s Elena Zelayeta; there’s also a brief essay on Julia Child that ties into the others. Certain themes reappear throughout the book: the tension between presenting authentic dishes and accommodating American appetites; the evolution from home chef to teacher to cookbook writer and restaurant owner; the difficulty of re-establishing a career after a relocation. The extensive notes are a treasure trove for readers interested in historical cookbooks and food writing.
VERDICT A must-read for those interested in culinary or women’s history and the evolution of American cookbooks.
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