Insatiable

I rarely describe anything as difficult to put down, but this book surprised me. Light and easy to read, Gael Greene’s memoirs about food and sex (plus everything in between) engage the reader in a way that interests, amuses, and ultimately fascinates. With the expertise of a top food connoisseur, she leads readers inside a world unfamiliar to most middle-class consumers. The book is quite thick, but its short chapters keep egging you to read on, read on. Although it proved addictive at first, eventually the excitement tapered off with the realization that it’s the same formula again and again: mind-blowing gourmet food, lusty affairs…repetitive, but irresistible all the same.

Peppered with recipes from Gael (inimitable unless you own an oven), Insatiable excites the palate with barely cooked fillets, generously buttered scallops, and melt-in-your-mouth desserts. Quenelles de brochet, poulet au vinaigre…half the time I couldn’t pronounce—let alone decipher—their names. Uninitiated as I was (not knowing a sorbet from a sherbet), I found myself mostly just wondering what dishes looked like, before even imagining how they tasted. I was more curious than hungry (although one night I did dream of food). The most interesting essays are the ones on Gael’s own life, brief attempts to chart the plot of her tumultuous love life. Character profiles also figure in the book, as Gael introduces a parade of famous chefs, critics, and actors. I particularly enjoyed “meeting” Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni. What I didn’t appreciate were Gael’s periodic updates on the New York gastronomic scene, an entire decade’s worth of history on which new bistros sprung up, which restaurants closed, and which were on their way to earning three Michelin stars. To the outsider, these appear little more than blind name- and place-dropping. I skimmed as quickly as I could.

In this book, Gael Greene compiles sweeping stories of her fast-paced life, revelatory confessions of a much older woman. Readers are hooked on this vicarious experience of a decadent lifestyle. The author maintains that there are more important things besides food and sex, but, as she herself puts it, she just can’t help herself. Insatiable is a fun read, a pleasure for the senses, but—while it is peppered with a little poignancy—it’s not something I would savor for a long time. Read it with the same motto Gael used for her marriage—“for as long as it’s wonderful.”

My first gastrointestinal disease. My first alcohol-based cure. What could Detroit possibly offer me after moments like these [in France]?

What was happening to us? We’d promised to be children together forever, loving, spontaneous. How had we gotten so stodgy?

…Don did understand that I needed to wake slowly and would bring me goodies and deep dark espresso with the Times Book Review on the wicker bed tray even till the end. No wonder I was confused. In all the years since, I’ve been waiting for the man who understands my need for breakfast in bed.

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