Growing up, Amelia Morris was never a foodie, and it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she decided to test her cooking skills. Despite never having made a cake from scratch — or having much of any kitchen experience whatsoever — she was dazzled by a beautiful chocolate-peppermint cake in Bon Appétit magazine and decided to try the recipe for a Christmas brunch that she was hosting.
Instead of creating a magazine cover-worthy cake to dazzle her friends with, the end result was a confection that had to be scooped out of a serving bowl, “unequivocal proof that if you work hard and follow the rules to a tee, your cake may still fall over and need to be scraped into a bowl on Christmas Day.” She took lots of pictures, was at peace with her epic failure, and ended up creating Bon Appétempt, a blog that’s charted her culinary journey over the past five years.
Dealing with failure and uncertainty are things that Morris had dealt with all her life. The first part of the book talks about her childhood; her parents separated when she was still very young, and her relationship with each parent took on very different dynamics over the years. As an adult, she moved away to Los Angeles and tried her hand at all kinds of odd jobs while struggling to live a creative life. It was a time when she and her now-husband second-guessed a lot of their life decisions, something I remember well from my 20s: you know what you want to do and have a feeling it could work, but it’s taking forever and you’re never financially stable. (Meanwhile, your friends are buying houses and cars and padding their resumes with impressive accomplishments.)
Although there are recipes and food memories sprinkled throughout the book — many chapters end with a recipe — the real focus on her food journey doesn’t come into play until the latter half of the book. Morris had to learn a lot of things from scratch since she had never really cooked before. At first, she was obsessed with following every recipe to the letter. Even if a recipe called for a hard-to-find item, she did her best to get her hands on it. As she picked up more skills in the kitchen, she started to loosen up more; a failed cooking attempt wasn’t the end of the world.
I bookmarked a lot of the recipes while reading the book and ended up trying the one for brie pasta (like Morris, my mind was also blown that one could put straight up mix the rind into the food). Although I timed my pasta wrong and it ended up sitting a bit while my brocollini finished steaming, I still ended up with a simple and delicious meal. I plan to make the red wine risotto next.
I think people who enjoy food memoirs will like this book (just know that the first half is more of a traditional coming-of-age type of memoir and not entirely food-focused). Morris is a funny and relatable writer even when she’s talking about difficult events from her past, and her healthy attitude about failure is admirable.
Bon Appétempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!) was released in February 2015 by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.