Book Review of “Food Whore” by Jessica Tom.
Imagine losing your sense of taste. That would be bad enough for anyone, but if you’re the top food critic for the New York Times that would be a complete disaster. That’s just what happened to Michael Saltz, but then he found Tia Monroe. Fresh out of Yale, Tia is a starry-eyed a NYU graduate student in food studies. With her amazing palate and talent for describing how foods taste, Saltz knows exactly how to take advantage of Tia’s first venture into the New York dining scene, and the people with all the influence and power.
Blurbs about this book call it a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and Kitchen Confidential (Chef Anthony Bourdain’s non-fiction book about the “underbelly” of the New York restaurant scene). I can easily agree with this, mostly because there are actually three things that come together here. First, there’s the food, then there’s the writing and finally, there’s the fashion. Yes, fashion, because no one would show up in a four star NYC restaurant wearing anything less than the most up-to-date haute couture. The combination of these three things, mixed with the highly competitive world of chefs and restaurant owners, is the perfect fodder for intrigue and deceit.
Ms. Tom certainly knows her stuff, being a food writer herself. This comes through brilliantly with her amazing descriptions of the foods that Tia critiques. Every line telling us about the scents, textures and flavors in each dish contains such luscious imagery that we literally begin to drool with each new account. In short, Tom’s food writing is perfectly succulent, and deserving of three Michelin stars, to say the least.
However, there’s actually more than that here, as well. Saltz’s usage of Tia in his deception comes with some benefits, not the least of which is an unlimited expense account at Bergdorf Goodman, known as THE fashion store for New York’s most rich and famous. Tom also brings her writing talent into the detailed accounts of the outfits designed to help her look like she fits with the best eateries that the Big Apple has on offer. Here, texture comes with the fabrics and materials, combined with the design and quality of the items. The way Tom drops designers’ names and portrays the way these clothes feel and look is equally as heavenly as how she depicts the scrumptious items she eats while wearing them. One might even say that Tom could easily have titled her book “Food and Clothing Whore,” since the sexiness she brings to both is practically equal.
Speaking of sexiness, with all these beautifully made and perfectly fitting clothes together with the orgasmic qualities of the flavors and dishes included, you just know some actual sex will be involved in this story as well. Tom gives us two love interests, Tia’s college sweetheart Elliot, and the extremely sexy, up-and-coming chef Pascal Fox. Between them, her backhanded work with Michael Saltz, graduate school and her first internship as a coat-check girl at a four-star New York restaurant, Tia has her hands full. Add to that two roommates, one of which looks like she’s about ready to steal Elliot away from her, and having to deal with growing suspicions from her co-workers and her dean at school, and the plot thickens like a perfectly made custard. The cherry on the top is Tia’s passion for food writing, which spills over into everything she does. Of course, when Tia feels that all this dishonesty is taking over, her regrets are equally as fervent. This makes Tia a very likable character, whose flaws and naivety makes her the perfect patsy, but with enough inner strength to keep her from being helpless.
With all of these delectable ingredients and opulent materials, you might wonder why I can’t give this a full five out of five stars. This is mostly because, like many first time fiction authors, I felt the ending was a little too well wrapped up, and a touch hurried for my taste. Although Tom does leave some things to our imagination, such as Tia’s future career and love life, it did seem to me that things worked out a little too easily. The final chapters also felt like Tom needed to get lots of information in after the dramatic peak of the story. I think I would have preferred directly jumping ahead several months, than having all of the post-climax details laid out for me. Despite this, I think Tom did a stellar job with this book, which I found to be a real page-turner and a truly enjoyable culinary (and couture) romp, with some of the most beautiful descriptive writing I’ve come across in a very long time. This certainly deserves a solid four out of five stars, and a warm recommendation.
“Food Whore” by Jessica Tom, published by William Morrow & Co., release date October 27, 2015, is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), the website eBooks.com, iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy) as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me the ARC of this book via Edelweiss.