Friday, October 30, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Food Whore" by Jessica Tom, Served Up With Blistered Berbere Chickpeas with Kale & Fried Egg

Pretty sure that this is the first time I have had the word whore on my blog and it's in the post title no less, so it may make for some interesting search results. ;-) A food whore, according to the Urban Dictionary, is "a person who will do anything for food" or "someone that is always around where food is." And, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit, is a debut book by Jessica Tom that I am reviewing on today's TLC Book Tour stop. Served with my review is a fabulous recipe inspired by the book--Blistered Berbere Chickpeas with Kale and Fried Egg.

Publisher's Blurb:

food whore (n.): a person who will do anything for food.

Fresh out of college, Tia Monroe has every intention of taking the New York City restaurant scene by storm. But after a coveted internship goes up in smoke, Tia’s suddenly just another food lover in the big city.

Everything changes when Michael Saltz, a legendary New York Times restaurant critic, lets Tia in on a career-ending secret: he’s lost his sense of taste. Now he wants Tia to serve as his palate, ghostwriting his reviews. In return he promises her lavish meals, a boundless supply of designer clothing, and the opportunity of a lifetime. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Tia agrees.

Within weeks, Tia’s world transforms into one of glamour and luxury: four-star dinners, sexy celebrity chefs, and an unlimited expense account at Bergdorf Goodman. Tia loves every minute of it . . . until she sees her words in print and Michael Saltz taking all the credit. As the veneer of extravagance wears thin and her secret identity begins to crumble, Tia is faced with what it means to truly succeed. In a city where “making it” is the ultimate goal, she will have to decide: how far is she willing to go for the life she craves?

Paperback: 352 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 27, 2015)

My Review: 

A new grad student in NYU's food studies program, Tia is aiming for a coveted internship with a famed and beloved cookbook author. However, she doesn't get a chance to impress Helen Lansky (who I kept picturing as Ruth Reichl in my head) with a container of her labor-intensive Dacqouise Drops, "a creation born of love" for her grandfather, because her path crosses with current New York Times food critic Michael Saltz. Saltz is notorious and altogether slimy, but he offers Tia a tempting proposition of ghostwriting his reviews. Of course when something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is, which is something Tia is not unaware of when she makes her deal with the devil, but the offer would tempt the strongest of characters. It's the chance to eat at the best and trendiest restaurants in NYC for free, an expense account at Bergdorfs with unending designer clothes and accessories, and seeing her thoughts and words in print. But, since Tia is keeping the secret of a famed food critic who can no longer taste what he is eating, no one can learn she is behind the reviews and soon keeping secrets and balancing her life becomes impossible. From the start it is pretty clear that things will not end well and Tia's life becomes like a train wreck that you just can't look away from. I did find it hard to drum up a ton of sympathy for Tia as she isn't the most likable person through most of the book. Yes, she is young at 22, and that is the time we are *supposed to* (and often do) make our worst decisions, but it bugged me that Tia made virtually everything about herself and her wants and needs. This meant her family, relationships, friends, and co-workers become a bit like road kill on her fast track to success, fame and everything she wants. Tia does have some growth during the book, but I did want to smack her much of the time. 

Although I didn't love Tia, I adored the food. The food descriptions are what pulled me into Food Whore and kept me going when my frustrations with Tia ran high. If you have a love for fine dining, fashion, New York City, and learning behind-the-scenes secrets of restaurants and food critics, you can't help but be caught up in this book. Author Jessica Tom is a passionate foodie and has a strong culinary background (including reviewing restaurants for Yale University) and that comes through in her writing. The food leaps off the page--so vividly that I could picture each dish she described--and almost smell and taste them too. Food Whore is a fun insider's peek at a fascinating world and reads like you are dishing with your most in-the-know foodie friend over a cocktail at the newest hot spot. There is romance, drama, intrigue, and plenty of glamour and glamorous food--just don't read it on an empty stomach! 


Author Notes: Jessica Tom is a writer and food blogger living in Brooklyn. She has worked on initiatives with restaurants, hospitality startups, food trucks, and citywide culinary programs. She graduated from Yale University with a concentration in fiction writing and wrote the restaurant review for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Food Whore is her first novel.
Find out more about Jessica at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. See what she’s pinning on Pinterest, and follow her photos on Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

Often times in my TLC Book Tour reviews it is a challenge to come up with a dish inspired by the book. With Food Whore, the pages of my copy are peppered with turned-down corners and tape flags marking all of the delectable food descriptions, so it was a challenge to pick just one dish. Jessica Tom's blog even has recipes inspired by the book, including a creamy Cauliflower Soup with Balsamic-Olive Oil "Caviar" (little molecular gastronomy pearls made with agar-agar) that I know I will try someday, or a version of the delectable-sounding Dacquoise Drops that helped give Tia her first 15-minutes of fame. But, it was a brief mention of a breakfast of "poached eggs in a bed of kale and blistered berbere chickpeas" a few pages from the end of the book that caught my eye. 

If you read my blog on a regular basis you will see a lot of dishes that have a yolky egg perched on top--it's my favorite way to add protein since I don't eat meat or poultry and fish gets spendy. I also adore both kale and chickpeas and have a berbere seasoning blend from Whole Foods in my pantry. I liked the idea of the fried/blistered chickpeas and so I put together my interpretation of this dish based on that one line of description. (You may notice that the book mentioned poached eggs and I love them, but prefer to just break out a frying pan and do a sunny-side up egg instead--quicker, easier, and usually it looks better in pictures than my poached eggs.)

Berbere is a popular Ethiopian seasoning mix that includes fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, chiles and other spices. You can find it at spice stores, well-stocked spice sections of some grocery and specialty stores, or it is easy enough to make your own. Chef Marcus Samuelsson has a good recipe here. It is pretty spicy, so add the amount you like to this dish to get it to your desired heat level.

Blistered Berbere Chickpeas with Kale and Fried Egg
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, Inspired by Food Whore by Jessica Tom
(Serves 2)

2 Tbsp coconut oil or high heat cooking oil of choice
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
1 large bunch kale, center stems removed, chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces
2 cups canned or cooked chickpeas, well drained and patted dry
1 1/2 tsp berbere spice mix, or to taste 
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and black pepper to taste
2 to 4 eggs (depending on your hunger level), poached or fried sunny-side-up

Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they are golden-brown (about 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and kale and cook, stirring, until kale wilts--about 4 minutes. Transfer mixture to plate or bowl and set aside.

Turn heat to high and add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to pan. Once pan and oil are hot, add chickpeas, spreading them out into a single layer. Cook until blistered, stir, and spread them out again. Repeat until the chickpeas are browned and blistered all over. (Note: Chickpeas may pop as they heat and the skins split and blister. I found it worked well to cover the pan and shake it every couple of minutes so no hot chickpeas popped out.) ;-)

Reduce heat to medium, add the berbere spice and the lemon juice to the blistered chickpeas and cook for a minute or so. Add the kale mixture and gently stir to mix together with the chickpeas. Add salt and black pepper to taste. 

Divide mixture into bowls and top with poached or fried eggs and a dusting of smoked paprika or more berbere mix. Serve immediately. 

Notes/Results: OK, I just might have a new favorite easy dinner, or breakfast, or lunch. This was SO GOOD! The slightly bitter kale, the crisp-on-the outside-but-tender-within chickpeas, the hint of acidity from the lemon, and the wonderful spicy, slightly sweet kick of the berbere--then, all of that yolky goodness stirred into the mix. Perfectly easy, perfectly delicious, perfectly satisfying. This was my first blistering (or probably more frying) of chickpeas and I didn't realize that they would pop so much from the heat and oil--like little burning spheres in my saute pan. Adding a lid and shaking the pan helped and although I won't claim that these are truly "blistered" and blackened, the skins were splitting and crisping, and they were wonderfully toothsome to eat. I kept picking them out of the pan and popping them into my mouth before I could plate the dish. If I don't happen to have kale or greens around, I would be happy just opening a can of chickpeas, frying them up and enjoying them with the berbere spice mix. This dish would also work well with harissa, or if you don't like as much heat, sumac or ras el hanout would also be lovely. I will definitely be making this again. 

Note: A review copy of "Food Whore" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. You certainly had lots of amazing foods to choose from in this book - I imagine it was hard to pick a favorite!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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