Harrison, who died a year ago of heart failure at age 78, had 12 novels plus numerous novellas and books of poetry under his belt. But I liked his voice best when he wrote about food, most of his essays appearing in the pages of Esquire and Men’s Journal. Lately, though, I've found that a lot of people—especially young food writers I know—have never even heard his name.
I first arrived at Harrison's writing a few years ago while dorkily poring over New Yorker archives. At that point, I came across the 2004 piece that forms the backbone of his essay collection, “A Really Big Lunch." It’s a pretty crazy narrative of gluttony, wherein Harrison makes his way through a hideously expensive 37-course lunch in Burgundy, a meal with recipes made from cookbooks published centuries ago. As I dug deeper into his work, I found that Harrison realized new possibilities for food writing, convincing me that food writing could touch on so many vectors and subjects while remaining vivid, insightful, and wryly funny.
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I'll probably never stop reading Harrison—he was so prolific that making my way through his whole oeuvre seems like a fool's errand—but his is the kind of writing I continually read and learn from. Here's some of Harrison's best writing on food and drink. If you haven’t yet encountered his writing, this is a good place to begin. I hope it leads you have as much enthusiasm for his writing as I do.
“Since diagnosis I have been sitting and brooding for a month in my studio like an infected mushroom. I’d like to be writing a madrigal but I don’t know how, a sixteenth-century Roman madrigal in honour of the exquisite Italian lamb shank recipe my wife made for me from a Batali book. With it I drank a simple Brouilly, a French light red, a bistro wine designed for summer months. Humble as they are I favour the shanks over the leg because the flavour is more intense.”
“When you bear down that hard on one thing—on your fiction or your poetry—then you have to have something like cooking, bird hunting or fishing that offers a commensurate and restorative joy. It comes from that notion that the way you eat bespeaks your entire attitude toward life.”
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.