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Book Review: A Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine

I was looking for something a little different for my reading list after having finished A Beast the Color of Winter recently and shoehorned in Steven Rinella’s first book A Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine into my reading list. By now you’ve probably heard of Steve, a popular author and storyteller, and star of the series MeatEater and the companion podcast The MeatEater Podcast. But this was before all of that, and on a topic that I was fascinated with. Bored with the seemingly endless recipes telling a successful hunter of virtually every critter with hoof or feather to smother the entire thing in cream of mushroom soup and bake it off in a casserole smacks to me of the 1950’s when people were still amazed that canned food worked.

The book track’s Steve’s adventures hunting, fishing, and just living life as a vagabond author with a goal of cooking a three day feast based on Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, the seminal work on French Haute Cuisine, the food of kings by the Chef of Kings. Steve and I are kindred spirits in that we obsess over things that the rest of society would only find marginally entertaining. I once spent the winter months researching the American PawPaw, Asimina Triloba, after discovering a weird tropical fruit smell when hiking the Patuxent River Park in Maryland. Steve has a similar quest for a plump squab, knowing it’s an under served meal in America.

The book was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me, from being excited when he gets involved with his quest to serve his circle of friends a feast they’ll never forget made entirely of wild game to when he describes the last few days with his father. My own father turned 60 this year, so Steve recounting his father’s final hours really struck me. My father is quite well indeed but in recent years he’s had more trouble with his health and is doing less to fix it than in years gone by. His father reminded me of my own in that my dad wanted me to find a hunting and fishing girlfriend, he was always out looking for another meal despite family financial hardships. But most importantly it served as a reminder to me that someday, hopefully a long time from now my father will die. I read the passage of Steve ice fishing with his father and wept.

I found that we share some of the same fears, and I think every man does of getting old. His dilemma about gigging frogs and not wanting to go because of chance of failure or some other reason hit home, and was one of the major reasons I wrote “I can’t go hunting it’s too…“. I think that at times we all struggle with the motivation in order to even do the things we know we want to do.

I haven’t read a book with this much fervor since there was a personal pan pizza and a gold star for my BookIt club attached to it.

Steve is an everyman who appeals to both hunters and non-hunters alike. His straightforward prose makes you think you’re right there with the Michigander ready to crack a beer and eat some deep fried game coated with a magic dusting of Fry Magic while you exchange stories around the dinner table. He writes like he speaks, from a body of experience in the woods and clearly from a wealth of reading background on subjects both common and esoteric. At 319 pages his book was a surprisingly quick read, I haven’t read a book with this much fervor since there was a personal pan pizza and a gold star for my BookIt club attached to it. I finished the book in under a week. The short chapters make it easily digestible into a series of short stories that combine together to form a yearlong epic of Steve’s life. This book has a permanent place on my shelf next to works from Anthony Bourdain, Sean Brock, and my copy of Le Cuisine de France.

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Last modified: April 28, 2020
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