Title: Down and Out in Paris and London
Author: George Orwell
During his Paris adventure, the narrator eventually finds work in the restaurant industry, first in a large hotel, then in a newly opened establishment. This material is, as my wife, expert in both reading and cooking, puts it, one of the cornerstones of food writing. The pirate ship atmosphere of the professional kitchen would be familiar to anyone who has read more recent cook memoirs. It would seem little has changed over the decades since, though I rather hope stricter enforcement of health regulations have had some impact. In London, the narrator lives as a tramp for several weeks, moving from one wretched shelter to the next as his means allow and the law requires. In both cities, his descriptions of the pathetic squalor of life among the poor are vivid and memorable. The fun is in the colorful characters he encounters along the way. It's Orwell so, naturally, there is plenty of social commentary on offer, too.
One recent writer who specifically cited the influence of this book on his own work was, of course, Anthony Bourdain. Kitchen Confidential was my own introduction to food lit and I would still rate it among the best books I've ever read. My wife and I went to see Bourdain at a book signing in New York in what must have been 2001 and were big fans of his TV travel shows for years. Bourdain obviously didn't invent the foodie movement of the late '90s and early aughts but he is the guy who made it cool for the alterna-crowd of my generation. For me, he was an inspiration as a writer, a traveler and a food enthusiast.
May he rest in peace.