When Michelle Maisto went to dinner for the first time with
Rich, she was taken by the way he took pains to order the chocolate
soufflé at the beginning of the meal, thus ensuring a
delicious warm treat for dessert. Food is an important part of
Michelle's life; the soufflé incident is significant because
it reveals a meaningful new layer to Rich's personality. She is now
acutely aware that they are connected through their love of good
There are other pivotal points to their burgeoning relationship.
At his apartment, she notices a DVD of a movie she alone seems to
adore --- and is amazed to hear he is also a fan. Much more
dramatically, when Michelle is accepted into Columbia and must move
across the country, Rich relocates with her. It isn't until she
graduates and they become engaged, however, that they actually
start living together.
And that's when the trouble begins.
Michelle adores Rich, but she has conflicted feelings about
entering into a marriage. Her mixed emotions are symbolized by the
couple's eating arrangements. Suddenly, their love of eating
becomes a hurdle --- even more so when Rich must take on extra work
so they can pay for their wedding, necessitating Michelle's offer
to solely shop and cook (chores they had previously shared). Their
eating differences and preferences are also magnified. Michelle is
a vegetarian; Rich eats meat. She has an Italian heritage; his is
Chinese. While Michelle can digest just about anything, Rich's
system is more delicate, yet she is content with a very light
evening meal, and he requires something rather substantial. When it
comes to meals, Michelle is a planner while Rich would rather be
Against these smaller but still important dissimilarities,
Michelle grapples with larger concerns, such as that of her role in
her upcoming marriage. She does not want to be a traditional
homemaker, and her current responsibility as shopper and cook is
troubling and thought-provoking. She also must come to grips with a
spiritual conundrum regarding her soon-to-be husband and the nature
of her own religious faith.
As Michelle and Rich negotiate their relationship, Michelle also
relates another love affair --- her intense affection for their
Brooklyn neighborhood and the city of New York, which she describes
in glowing detail. In that off-beat neighborhood, in their quirky
apartment, Michelle and Rich gradually fit their lives together
into one, piece by piece. They often feast gloriously (while
generously sharing their recipes with readers) but stumble at times
with hastily thrown together snack foods for meals.
If the wedding planning seems to lose urgency and momentum for
much of the middle of the book, the story is all the better for it.
After all, Michelle's emphasis is on the melding of two lives and
palates into a workable whole, and not on the arrangement of one
occasion. Foodies who have also navigated a valuable and deepening
relationship fraught with eating concerns will especially enjoy
this story of passions of the heart and table, filled with glorious
descriptions of meals and the couple's special recipes.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 22, 2011
The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love