Stanley Tucci’s “Taste: My Life Through Food” Didn’t Suite My Tastes

Image created by the author in Canva (book cover image courtesy of Goodreads)

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At the tail end of 2021, one of my favorite book podcasts wraps up their favorite reads of the year. Among them was Stanley Tucci’s food memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food. I’d heard about it before, and it sparked my interest. 

If there are two things I love in life, it’s food and celebrity memoirs. Even if I’m not a particularly massive fan of a celebrity, I will pick up their memoir on audio and usually find it interesting. So, I was quite surprised to find myself feeling quite put out by Tucci’s food centric memoir. 

There were, of course, things I enjoyed about the book. I don’t waste my time on finishing if that isn’t the case. But as I’ve listened to it over the course of the week, I’ve tried to parse out why it isn’t working for me in the way that so many other food and/or celebrity memoirs have. In this review, I’ll try and put it into words.

At the beginning of Taste, we open with Tucci and his mother discussing whether or not he happens to be hungry. The dialogue in this scene is written thus: 

My mother: Thing she said. 

Me: Thing Tucci said. 

This way of writing dialogue irritates me in print, and I found it nearly impossible to stomach on audio. For me, it comes across very staccato. While it is clearly a stylistic choice here (perhaps a nod to Tucci’s life as an actor), it is one that is very much not to my taste. I resolved that if the book continued in this way, I’d set it aside.

Mercifully, it did not. 

But then Tucci said “culinary” and the way he pronounced again set me on edge. Immediately I found the book’s tone pretentious, which is a bit laughable coming from someone with an English literature degree and an MFA.

“Okay,” I thought, wanting to be fair to Tucci and examine my personal reaction more closely. “What’s going on here?” 

It wasn’t until the book continued on for a bit that I realized what it was. A life in food that is framed by family recipes, passed down from generations of Italian roots, traced back to the home country in youth, was never going to sit well with me. It couldn’t feel anything but pretentious to me. 

My young life in food was something altogether different. So much so, in fact, that my initial draft of this review quickly turned into a lengthy personality about young me not really considering my heritage — food and otherwise — to be a culture, at all. 

I’ll spare you that level of detail here, but suffice it to say that my response to this book was, at least in part, a highly personal one. Your mileage may vary in that regard, particularly if you do not have a weird chip on your shoulder about not know you could roast a vegetable until after college. 

Personal hang-ups about the intersections of food, family, and lineage aside, I did have a few other notes on this book that I think explain why I found it less enjoyable that I wanted to. 

Quite late in the memoir comes an essay about Tucci’s experience undergoing treatment for cancer of the mouth. This treatment made him, for a time, unable to eat in the traditional sense, and made food smell and taste terrible. To me, it feels very much like the inciting incident of the memoir itself, yet its placement is… quite late. Rarely have I experienced such a strong and immediate sense that a chunk of a book really belongs somewhere else entirely. 

I found myself trying to parse why this vital link to Tucci’s desire to write about his life through the lens of food was left until so late. It would, I feel, have framed the stories throughout the book in a far more interesting and compelling way than the “food is my lineage” framing we get with the scene of a young Tucci and his mother speaking about food. 

Some of other stories and anecdotes feel a bit out of order in this way, as well, but this section stuck out to me the most by far. I couldn’t shake the strong sense that, in a previous draft, this had been the book’s opening. It just didn’t seem to fit, where it was. 

I think if I went back now and reread the book — which I won’t, at least not yet — this lens would change how I felt about it. Alas, other decisions were made in editing. 

For all my complaints and personal ponderings as noted above, I did finish this book. For me, that almost always earns at least 3 stars on Goodreads, because I try to DNF any book I’m not getting something from. 

I adore food. I adore hearing about other people’s relationships to food. I also think Tucci has a wonderfully dry sense of humor about his life and his fame. Though I did not laugh out loud while listening, I was certainly more than a little amused throughout. 

It’s just that, ultimately, the book felt… distant, for me. Like the closeness I expect in a memoir was lacking, and I couldn’t quite sink in. 

I recommend it, nevertheless, to fans of Tucci’s work, to those who enjoy a good food memoir, and to those who may be less put off by the notion of spending a year living in Italy as a child. 

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