I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Since I only write positive book reviews, I wouldn't be talking about it if I didn't enjoy it.
If you like books about food, you don't want to miss Give a Girl a Knife. You know how I know? Because I can hardly boil water and I still thoroughly enjoyed it! In fact, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at food the same way again.
From the finest kitchens in NYC's top gourmet kitchens to living off the land in rural northern Minnesota where she calls home, one thing is abundantly clear: Amy Thielen can cook anything, anywhere. I'm convinced that you could literally give her any food and she'd find a way to make an unforgettable meal. The descriptions of flavor are so rich you can taste them, even if it's a food you've never had. And if you think you have an adventurous palate, you'll realize you're reading after reading Give a Girl a Knife because you'll add a thousand new tastes to your to-be-eaten list.
You're probably wondering why someone who can hardly cook without the use of a microwave would want to read a food memoir. Well, the answer is simple: I'll read a book about any subject if the writing is compelling, and I'm happy to report that Thielen is as good of a writer as she is a chef. On top of that, few things make me happier than seeing someone who's as passionate about whatever they do as I am about books. You're reading this blog, so I assume you know how passionate I am about books––Amy Thielen is that passionate about cooking.
I noticed this especially in the passages where she talked about working 80 hour weeks, often going into work at 10am ahead of the lunch rush and leaving at 1am after the multi-course dinner guests had all gone home. Her passion leaps off the page when she talks about what she had to do to make her dream possible––making enough money working in Manhattan kitchens nine months out of the year so she and her partner could live in their handmade home, one without running water or electricity, in Minnesota every summer. That kind of dedication doesn't come without a fire in the heart and a flame in the belly.
In the same way I measure my life in books, remembering where I was and at what point in my life where I read a certain book and how I acquired the book, Amy measures her life in food and cooking. The memoir contextualizes her life in terms of food and you meet Amy at many different stages of life and beyond her gourmet kitchen days and living off the land days. You meet her as a child learning her mom and grandma's recipes passed down through generations of German matriarchs. You meet her as an adult in Paris, going on a food tour with her mom. You meet her as an adult newly on her own working in a hectic kitchen at a casual dining place that serves over 400 people a day. You meet her pregnant with her first child, making difficult decisions that will affect her family and legacy as one of the US's greatest chefs of our time.
You meet all of her strange and quirkily lovable kitchen cohorts whom she works with six days a week and spends more time with than her partner. They're both geniuses and madmen and full of the tough love that running an organized kitchen requires, no matter the size or kind of restaurant. They're somehow, simultaneously, the work-family you never want to have and exactly the work-family you'd want. They embody all the chaos of the kitchens they inhabit.
What I connected with most about Amy is, in the end, her desire to go back to her roots and make new what she finds there. As she learns, it's one thing to make interesting dishes when you have all the ingredients in the world at your fingertips, or just a delivery away. It's another thing entirely to reinvent the food around you, what grows in the place you were born, and see it with new eyes. Her desire to breathe new life into the Midwestern table after her many years of studying food and experience in fine dining is the epitome of "learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist." And Amy Thielen is an artist.
I'd recommend Give a Girl a Knife to any creative who is inspired by seeing passion at work in artists at the top of their game. I'd doubly recommend it to anyone who loves food, cooking, and has a bucket list of tastes.
Amy's memoir is out now and you can find it wherever books are sold.