I have always enjoyed Stanley Tucci as an actor, but I became a true, devoted fan last summer when I started watching his CNN show, Searching for Italy. Tucci and I share a passion for food, dining out, and meeting chefs / farmers. I watched live every Sunday night as he explored a new region of Italy.
When I learned Tucci was coming out with a memoir about his relationship to food and cooking, I knew immediately I would read it. A friend was kind enough to loan me her copy.
The book begins with Tucci's earliest food memories growing up in Westchester, New York. He reminisces about what his mother used to make for school lunches, after school snacks, and family dinners. He also shares a few of his grandfather's recipes.
Then, we travel with him to New York City as he begins his acting career and identifies his favorite Manhattan restaurants. Everything from Italian spots with homemade pasta to Jewish delis with piping hot bowls of matzah ball soup.
I particularly enjoyed learning what food culture is like on movie sets. Did you know the best cup of coffee is in the makeup trailer?
On page 161, "Usually when an actor arrives on a set, they put in their breakfast order with teh second AD (who runs the base camp where all the trailers are set up) and is then sent into hair and makeup to get ready. Many an actor in many a makeup chair has gobbled down many a breakfast as a poor makeup artist tries to daub foundation on a masticating jaw and bobbing Adam's apple while politely ignoring the sulfurous stench of the actor's hard-boiled eggs. It is also in the makeup trailer, an oasis of sorts for actors, where one can be assured of getting the best cup of coffee on set, because most makeup artists outfit them with good coffeemakers. However, just in case, I always bring at least two Nespresso machines the first day I start a job: one for the makeup trailer as a communal font of caffeine, and one for my own trailer, as I will often be trapped in there for hours on end and I want a good coffee when I want one."
During this portion of the book, Tucci also shares some fond memories of dining out with Meryl Streep and Chris Messina while filming Julie & Julia. Casual.
I think my favorite section of the book is when Tucci begins to share about meeting his second wife, Felicity Blunt. Yes, sister to actress Emily Blunt. Felicity is a literary agent and as it turns out, an equally food-obsessed person.
On page 207, Tucci describes a morning where he and Blunt de-feather two pheasants that had been gifted to them by their favorite local chef in London. "The next morning was Saturday, and we awoke with the excitement that comes with knowing one has a passionate mission to complete. We pulled the pheasants out of the fridge, made a morning beverage, and plopped ourselves in front of the television to watch my new favorite show, Saturday Kitchen, and pluck our birds. An hour and a half later, our dressing gowns covered in feather, in the tray lay the denuded carcasses of the avian gifts Brett had bestowed on us the night before. It had been a perfect morning. Two food nerds becoming more emotionally intimate by tearing the feathers from a pair of dead birds. It makes no sense that this would give us both such joy, but in a way, it did. First of all, if you're a food lover, there is always something gratifying about connecting with the vegetable, the fruit or whatever animal, whether you've grown it, raised our hunted it, becomes it becomes your food. But to make that connection and then connect with someone else simultaneously is an exalted, almost spiritual level of foodie intimacy. To me it was one of the most romantic mornings I have ever spent sitting down."
Tucci writes so fondly about Blunt as a partner, a mother and a caregiver. The final section of the memoir is about Tucci's cancer diagnosis. He had a tumor on his tongue that required treatment via radiation and chemotherapy. During that time, anything he ate tasted like garbage. At one point, he was forced to use a feeding tube, taking away any pleasure from the act of eating.
The experience of not being able to eat and taste with ease as he once did, give Tucci a deep appreciation for the role food has played in his life. Thankfully, in present day, he has been able to eat normally again. There are certain foods that cause distress, but otherwise he's been able to revisit many of his favorite dishes (and cocktails!).
If you love food, you will love Taste: My Life Through Food. You can hear Tucci's voice with every sentence, which makes it feel like you're being given a private performance.