The Bookshelf: The Oxford American 2010 Southern Food Issue

The Oxford American Southern Food issue, a love letter to the loud and proud cuisine of the American South, arrived last month, and it is essential reading for anyone who calls the region home or just appreciates great writing. Guest editor John T. Edge and a few contributors read selections from the issue at last week’s Beard on Books. For an issue dedicated to food that’s so entrenched in local history and culture, one of its most absorbing subjects is an import: Peter Chang, an elusive cook from China. In an evocative piece written by Kliman called “The Perfect Chef,” Chang flits from restaurant to restaurant, barely staying put long enough to sully his chef whites. Kliman, who is a food critic for the Washingtonian, is never far behind. He describes the taste of Chang’s food: “I had always thought the food was addictive—the way you ate more than you intended for no other reason than that the scorching heat set your heart to racing and caused you to sweat and gave you the feeling of release and exhilaration.” Kliman’s devotion to Chang is also linked to the thrill of the chase: “I got in my car and drove to three different states to find him, before I began tracking his whereabouts on the Internet and running down leads that had been passed to me by people I had never met, before I had to admit that I had become a little crazed in my pursuit." He also explores how his attachment conflicts with his role as a critic, the complication of feeling fiercely loyal to a chef while bound to objectivity. “A critic is not supposed to feel proprietary—and certainly not supposed to feel protective—of a restaurant or a chef. That’s when I knew that I had crossed a line, if only in my mind,” writes Kliman. His obsession—and the entire magazine—speaks to the food obsessed. You can order a copy of the issue on the Oxford American website.

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