An event that takes its name from a short story in which a fatal car crash sends a steering wheel into the sternum of a drunk teenager sets the drama bar pretty high. Based on premise alone, though, the bi-annual Kim Ricketts Book Events panel discussion with local cookbook authors, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Food,” doesn’t seem likely to plunge any deeper than a nick from a potato peeler.
Not so. Last spring’s iteration had nearly the entire audience salting its chardonnay with tears after an author read a tribute to her ailing father. Time before that, the crowd went fetal laughing at a writer’s description of a bodily fluid that, as a man, I didn’t even know existed.
The events have something else in common with Raymond Carver’s gorgeous, gin-soaked story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love:" People sitting around a table, drinking and recounting tales.
Last night, the impossible-not-to-like Amy Pennington (author of Urban Pantry) led a discussion with five cookbook scribes: Shauna Ahern (co-author of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef), chef/author Ethan Stowell (Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen), Greg Atkinson (Northwest Essentials), Kim O’Donnel (The Meatlover’s Meatless Cookbook), and Lara Ferroni ( Doughnuts ).
The highlights: Stowell’s secret seduction recipe (it involves a sea urchin); the origin of Ferroni’s lifelong love affair with doughnuts (family road trip, cramped VW Karmann Ghia, Dunkin Donuts pit stop, bliss); Ahern’s burnt-garlic-as-metaphor; the O’Donnel clan’s flirt with fate via high cholesterol and steak.
But it was the author of Northwest Essentials—which first hit shelves a decade ago and has re-emerged for a new audience to devour—who lifted the evening to literary heights worthy of the event’s name. In a chapter ostensibly about oysters, Greg Atkinson recounted the moment he learned that his brother had died. The prose sent the audience on Atkinson’s grief-stricken walk along a Bainbridge Island beach and back to a table where tears and oysters and memory melted into one.
And that, after the panel disassembled and disappeared into the mingling crowd—and we all shouldered out onto the sidewalk and pointed our cars home—is what we talked about.