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Give a Girl a Knife
Cover of Give a Girl a Knife
Give a Girl a Knife
A Memoir
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A beautifully written food memoir chronicling one woman’s journey from her rural Midwestern hometown to the intoxicating world of New York City fine dining—and back again—in search of her culinary roots
 
Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City’s finest kitchens—for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten—she grew up in a northern Minnesota town home to the nation’s largest French fry factory, the headwaters of the fast food nation, with a mother whose generous cooking dripped with tenderness, drama, and an overabundance of butter.
       Inspired by her grandmother’s tales of cooking in the family farmhouse, Thielen moves north with her artist husband to a rustic, off-the-grid cabin deep in the woods. There, standing at the stove three times a day, she finds the seed of a growing food obsession that leads her to the...
A beautifully written food memoir chronicling one woman’s journey from her rural Midwestern hometown to the intoxicating world of New York City fine dining—and back again—in search of her culinary roots
 
Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City’s finest kitchens—for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten—she grew up in a northern Minnesota town home to the nation’s largest French fry factory, the headwaters of the fast food nation, with a mother whose generous cooking dripped with tenderness, drama, and an overabundance of butter.
       Inspired by her grandmother’s tales of cooking in the family farmhouse, Thielen moves north with her artist husband to a rustic, off-the-grid cabin deep in the woods. There, standing at the stove three times a day, she finds the seed of a growing food obsession that leads her to the...
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Chapter 1

    My Kitchen Affliction

    The place from which I’d come before cooking at Danube couldn’t have been any more different if I’d imagined it—­and sometimes I think I did.

    To trace my journey to that kitchen in backward fashion, you have to climb up into a twelve-­foot U-­Haul truck with me and my boyfriend, Aaron, a truck whose broken-­down starter requires us to park each night on a downward-­facing slope that will flip-­flop-­flip-­flop the starter to life each morning and keep us driving . . . ​up, down, and around the tight hills of upstate New York; then along the thick blacktop artery that clings to the southern coast of Canada, stopping periodically—­without cutting the engine—­to pick up foam clamshells of fried perch-­and-­chips in the finger of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; across the stubby acidic swamplands of Minnesota through ghostly towns called Ball Club and Remer and Federal Dam on thinning two-­lane blacktop; all the way to the dead-­end, minimum-­maintenance road that leads us back to the house Aaron built in the Two Inlets State Forest: a tall, one-­room log cabin best described to others for what it lacked—­running water, electricity, all modern amenities—­but to us as the scrappy home we’d known for the previous three years. This humble place of origin, whose housekeeping hardships we generally ignored, gives you a pretty good idea why it never occurred to us to return a rental truck with a nonworking starter.

    Aaron and I hadn’t just driven a few thousand miles from northern Minnesota to Brooklyn; we’d also jumped forward a good hundred years. Our early life together was nothing if not a creative use of the time machine. At the house in the woods, we pumped water by hand from our own sand point well and hauled it into the kitchen in plastic jugs. We kept our meat cold on blocks of ice, lit oil lamps for light when the sun went down, and showered outside in the breeze. On the hill jutting out into a swollen creek, home to a natural stand of wild rice and a community of honking swans that separated us from neighbors for miles, we basically lived on an island of the 1880s within a sea of the late 1990s. I liked to think of it as our own private epoch, but looking back, I’d say we pretty much lived in our heads.

    I admit, when we first started dating and Aaron told me about his house—­at ages twenty-­four and twenty-­one, respectively—­I thought the whole enterprise sounded a little suspect. But that was before I came to understand his pragmatic optimism, his gift for turning flamboyant fantasies into realities that parade around the room as common sense.

    Before we dated, I’d known of Aaron vaguely for years. He was my childhood friend Sarah’s unusual older brother, one of our hometown’s only ratty-­haired punks, the sequin-­caped lead singer of a glam rock band, and a sculptor. By the time I met him, he had graduated from art school in Minneapolis, was recently divorced from his high school sweetheart, and had moved back home to Park Rapids to build his house in the woods. He thought of himself as an old man and mockingly referred to himself as “retired”—­a joke that hid a key shift of perspective. Going against the prevailing wind that nudged all artists toward backup plans, he reacted by throwing himself a retirement party and signing up for AARP. Making art would not be a secondary pursuit for him, but plan A.

    And the new retiree was looking for a cheap...
About the Author-
  • AMY THIELEN is the author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook The New Midwestern Table and the host of Heartland Table on Food Network. A former New York City line cook, she now speaks and writes about home cooking for radio, television, and magazines, including Saveur, where she's a contributing editor. She lives with her husband, visual artist Aaron Spangler, their son, his dog, and a bunch of chickens, in rural Park Rapids, Minnesota.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 15, 2017
    In this enjoyable memoir, James Beard Award–winner Thielen (The New Midwestern Table) takes readers on a culinary journey from the Midwest to New York City and back. For years, she and her artist husband, Aaron Spangler, bounced between the food and art worlds of New York City and their tiny, unplugged home in the woods of Minnesota. Simultaneously sincere and funny, Thielen writes of her path to becoming a chef and understanding her German and French roots. She graduated from Macalester College in 1997 and two years later left her hometown for New York City, where she attended cooking school and landed jobs in the kitchens of restaurants run by Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among others. She often returned to Minnesota, where she would tap into the culinary traditions of her family: her mother would prepare French classics with a hearty American twist, and Thielen also became intrigued by the cuisine of her German grandmother, who delighted in bacon, butter, and all things fermented, especially pickles. After the birth of her son, Thielen and Spangler decided to leave Brooklyn and move permanently to Minnesota. Thielen’s writing is warm and welcoming, especially as she describes going back home: “You don’t just jump into the same old story. You step back into your shadow, but into a totally new narrative.”

  • Kirkus

    March 15, 2017
    A Saveur contributing editor and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author reflects on her Midwestern upbringing as inspiration for her culinary pursuits.The frenzied, behind-the-scenes activity within New York's leading restaurant kitchens has been well-documented in numerous cooking memoirs of recent years. Massive egos running rampant, razor-sharp precision and timing demanded at every moment, 80-hour work weeks--Thielen (The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes, 2013), who hosts a Food Network show, delivers plenty of these now-familiar revelations in her debut memoir. The author's journey begins in the late 1990s, when, freshly arrived from Minnesota with her boyfriend (and future husband), Aaron, she landed a job as a line chef at David Bouley's famed Danube. She later rose to more prominent positions under such notables as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud. For several years, the author and Aaron shuttled back and forth between New York and their home in a deeply rural section of Minnesota, where they live largely off the land. As Thielen contemplated how her future in the industry would unfold, her objectives stretched beyond the predictable aspirations of opening a restaurant or even continuing in New York. She reflects on the values of family and community bonds and recalls how her culinary instincts were instilled by her mother's less pretentious skills as a home cook: -Her caramels, her bacon-fried rice, and her Cesar salad (trademarked with a burning amount of garlic) made her a minor star in our neighborhood circle, and in our lives.- Thielen's narrative journey evolves somewhat passively, and she offers few fresh insights into the food industry or the high-end restaurant scene, yet her musings on ingredients and flavors are engaging: -The joy of lemon cannot stand alone; it needs sugar or olive oil, something to bring it back to earth. Vinegar literally cries out for fat. Fat falls flat without salt or sugar. Chile heat sings with brown sugar. And bitterness, well, that needs it all.- A warm, mildly immersive memoir documenting how Thielen found her calling by embracing her down-home influences.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Give a Girl a Knife
A Memoir
Amy Thielen
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