The food memoir is a tricky genre. Many chefs, restauranteurs, and home cooks have penned brilliant books about their experiences with food and in life. As a reviewer I've read dozens of these memoirs, and as such have reasonably high standards for personal recollections of kitchen conundrums. Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs in and Out of the Kitchen by Alyssa Shelasky, who keeps a blog of the same name, drew me in and kept me turning the page. But Shelasky's tone and anecdotes proved ultimately more annoying than inspiring, and left me wondering why exactly this book was sold as a food memoir.
Shelasky was a longtime writer for magazines like People and US Weekly, living a party-girl lifestyle in New York City for much of her twenties. She spends many pages discussing how, as a pretty girl, she had many sordid, silly, and sexy affairs with all types of almost-celebrities. The details of these affairs comprise much of the first section of the book, making for some funny moments but also a fair amount of forehead-slapping. When discussing this period of her life, Shelasky reiterates that food was never all that important to her. She could eat whatever she wanted and stay thin - she matter-of-factly highlights consuming an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream every day in high school - and was more interested in the restaurant scene than the actual food being celebrated.
Then the opportunity came along to interview a certain ex-Top Chef contestant for People's bachelor issue. She refers to this man as Chef throughout the book in an attempt to conceal his identity, but a simple Google search reveals who he is - Spike Mendelsohn, season 4. Shelasky and Chef hit it off during their interview, and entered into a serious and romantic relationship right away. Their love was quick and deep, and Shelasky shares sweet details of their trips and late-night snacks.
But soon the stresses of Chef's schedule, especially as he opened Good Stuff Eatery and then We, the Pizza, put strain on their relationship. Around that time, Shelasky began her first forays into the kitchen - basic dishes that she could serve to a tired fiancee when he arrived home late into the night. But her homemade dishes couldn't patch their fraying relationship; when Chef couldn't commit to a wedding date, Shelasky left.
The rest of the book details how Shelasky turned to cooking as a way of soothing herself and those around her. She doesn't seem to have had such a hard time learning her way around a kitchen, with tales of amazing jumbo muffins and 10-person dinner parties. She picks up with a few new guys, some of whom are also chefs, and lands a sweet job as the editor of Grub Street: New York (which she currently holds). Chef remains in her life as a texting buddy and close friend, their relationship never entirely platonic.
Heartbreak is a universally understood subject, and it's hard not to empathize with someone who is trying to cope with the fact that she can't be with the man she loves. But this book never quite recovered from the initial 100 or so pages of somewhat self-promoting tales of a wild child adolescence. I found myself constantly wondering why this book was ostensibly about food - it really was more of a kiss-and-tell for the Sex and the City crowd than an insightful personal recollection of time spent in the kitchen. (And speaking of SATC, if you find that show whiny, elitist and narcissistic, don't pick up Apron Anxiety. The book has a little too much Carrie Bradshaw influence for my comfort.) Shelasky is a good writer whose constant dramas did keep me engaged. But if you're looking for a satisfying, touching, and relatable memoir about food and cooking, this book misses the mark.
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