Books

The Just-Released Memoir I Read in One Night

April 29, 2020

I read Everything Is Under Control, Phyllis Grant’s new memoir, in one sitting.

You might recognize her name from this Genius tomato sauce or, years before that, when she shared creamy, garlicky, anchovy-y recipes during the early days of our site. Though the articles that went with weren’t just about cream or garlic or anchovies. Because to Grant, writing about citrus salad is writing about insomnia. Pasta with corn is her son going to camp. Hazelnut brittle is her daughter’s birthday.

And isn’t this what food is, really? Not just the taste, the smell, the way something melts in your mouth, but also whatever—or whoever—is happening around the dinner table, the kitchen counter, the bedroom.

In Everything Is Under Control, Grant’s writing is more candid than a close friend—as much recipe as poem as flash fiction as a letter to you, someone she’s probably never met, but would like, very much, to sit down and talk with.

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Top Comment:
“Hi—I found Phyllis sharing her experience to be incredibly brave in an environment in which many women don't feel safe talking about their choices for their own bodies. But like you said, this is a personal recommendation from me—one that I fully stand by, and that you can take or leave. We have a lot of other content on our site that I hope you keep enjoying.”
— Emma L.
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So it’s easy to see how you too might pick up this memoir and not put it down until the last page. It is a book and it isn’t a book. It’s a conversation. Which feels especially intimate when every conversation we have is already so far apart.

Below is an excerpt from Everything Is Under Control, out now.


I bang out the remaining prep: chopped chives, parsley, and shallots. Once the dupes roll in, I can do nothing but plate.

I lug buckets of oysters up from the basement and stack enough plates for the first twenty orders. I plug in my mini-burner, retie my plastic wrap belt, and ignore the electric ache that has been flashing in my heart every day this week before service.

Without hesitation or self-doubt, the extern next to me brunoises the carrots for the soup and then juliennes the fennel for my salad. He’s only here for a few months. So helpful. So careful. So skilled. So ready to fly out the door the moment he can. He freaks when I borrow his knife. Careful. Phyllis. Wait. You never slide the knife edge across the cutting board. It will fuck up the edge. He lends me a copy of Marco Pierre White’s White Heat. He wants to be a rock-and-roll chef. I just want to make it through the next dinner service.

Chef sneaks up behind me and tickles my lower back. He gently pulls my ponytail.

You look like a cheerleader today, Felicia.

He pulls yellowtail out of my low-boy refrigerator and asks me to smell it.

No smell, Chef.

He picks up one of my knives and slices off a piece of the fish to prepare a dish for a VIP. Without looking up, he says, Felicia, your knives are never sharp enough.

Oui, Chef.

He shifts his weight from side to side, mumbling to himself, furrowing his brow, components moving together as if he’s gathering ideas from the air. He does this every service. I only know how to follow a recipe. But he is making shit up as he goes along. And I love watching.

He whisks together crème fraîche, fromage blanc, sherry wine vinegar, chopped chives, almond oil, salt, pepper. Never stop tasting, Felicia.

He scoops some up with his finger to taste. I do the same. And then I wait for the next step. Sweat drips down the backs of my legs and into my boots.

Do you have some blanched beans?

Oui, Chef. Fava, lima, Romano, yellow wax, haricot verts.

All of them, please.

I follow his every move so that I can repeat the dish over and over again throughout the evening. The way he examines the beans, gently cradling them in his fingers before dropping each one down into the bowl. How he coats everything with the creamy nutty mixture by quickly shifting the bowl away from his body and yanking back, away and back, away and back, as if he’s flipping a crepe. I watch his hands. The path of his eyes. Tossing, tasting, adjusting. This is when I breathe. This is when I learn.

The first order comes in. My chest gets all warm and prickly. Sweat pools in my bra. I yank my ponytail up into a tight bun and fall off a cliff for seven hours.

Copyright © 2020 by Phyllis Grant

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

11 Comments

Tracey May 8, 2020
Hey Americans remember we ALL get to voice our opinion that’s what makes the USA so great but I think we should all dial back the anger and attitude we seem to have toward each other. We ALL have the right to fight for what WE believe in but do it with respect and love for each other anger only closes down the minds and hearts of those who you want to hear your words. Let’s continue to talk to each other respectfully and what could be better than over food it’s the one thing we can agree that we ALL need.
 
Laura May 8, 2020
I love everything Phyllis Grant writes. And I love every recipe she has ever posted. This was a magnificent read. The only downside: I didn’t want it to end.
 
DMStenlake May 8, 2020
She has an interesting writing style. I’m okay with whatever she has to express but because of Lynn’s recipe comment I’m especially interested. So how many recipes are included in the memoir?
 
Laura May 8, 2020
There are 17 recipes.
 
I love Food 52. I don't love recommendations for books about food that end with an abortion and oh, here's my recipe for tomato sauce with anchovies. Not everyone has a casual attitude towards abortion and I am extremely disappointed that Food 52 would recommend a book that has this kind of content.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 1, 2020
Hi—I found Phyllis sharing her experience to be incredibly brave in an environment in which many women don't feel safe talking about their choices for their own bodies. But like you said, this is a personal recommendation from me—one that I fully stand by, and that you can take or leave. We have a lot of other content on our site that I hope you keep enjoying.
 
witloof May 6, 2020
Colletepburgess if you don't approve of abortions don't have one. But you do not have the right to tell other people what not to write about because it offends your sensibilities.
 
I agree. It is a personal choice. My complaint is that I read this book on the recommendation of Food 52, a food blog. Discussions about abortion or other personal and political topics should not have a place on Food 52. There are other appropriate forums for this.
 
Rebecca K. May 8, 2020
It seems very closed minded of you to not even want to read about the reasoning behind someone's decision to have an abortion. You can disapprove but you really should have an understanding regarding the decisions people make before condemning them outright. And no one forced you to read this article, nor the book. The world does not need to conform to your views. It does not revolve around you. The book is about food and also has some personal decisions in it. You gotta get over yourself.
 
Susan G. May 10, 2020
Well said!
 
Lynn April 29, 2020
I immediately added this to my Wish List - her pasta with corn, roasted tomatoes and confit garlic is one of my very favourite recipes EVER. Can't wait!