Before Stanley Tucci became a household name with The Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games and the perfect Negroni, he grew up in an Italian American family that spent every night around the table.
Taste is a captivating reflection on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about growing up in Westchester, New York, preparing for and filming the food films Big Night and Julie & Julia, falling in love over dinner, and teaming up with his wife to create conversation-starting meals for their children.
Each morsel of his gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burnt dishes, is as heartfelt and delicious as the last.
I recently watched the brilliant first series of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, which follows the actor as he travels around Italy exploring the cultures, cuisines and history of the country’s diverse regions. This got me interested in reading his memoir Taste, which explores Stanley Tucci’s life through food. Back in 2017, Tucci was diagnosed with mouth cancer, the treatment for which meant that he lost his sense of taste and smell, and had to be fed via a tube. This experience made him aware of just how important food was to him – that it wasn’t just a huge part of his life, it was his life.
Despite this very difficult experience, made even harder by the loss of his first wife to cancer, Tucci has written a book that is overwhelmingly light and full of humour. Before I bought the physical copy, I listened to the audiobook. This is narrated by Stanley Tucci in his characteristically dry voice, and I found it really brought the writing to life. As I read / listened to this book, I experienced a plethora of sensations and emotions – obviously hunger, but also joy, heartbreak, nostalgia and bewilderment. Now, I don’t want to share too much and spoil your reading experience, so I’ll just give you a little taste (pun intended and achieved) of my favourite parts…
I really connected with Tucci’s description of his childhood in Westchester, playing in the surrounding woods with his friends, building forts and sledding down hills covered in the deep snow that would fall steadily every winter. It took me back in time to when I lived in America for a few years growing up, during which my siblings and I would also build forts and sled down steep snow-covered hills.
As a fellow Italian, I can also fully understand the national pride that is so evident in Tucci’s writing. For example, I too feel very passionately about people (not naming names, you know who you are) cutting their spaghetti, and I agree wholeheartedly with Stanley that the only way to teach these people is to kill them.
Just kidding, of course…
But seriously – never, ever do it! Especially not while you are in Italy. It is tantamount to sacrilege. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Anyway, I’ve completely gone off track. Back to the book! As someone who loves Italian food above any other cuisine, I really enjoyed reading about the food that Tucci grew up eating and I look forward to trying out some of the recipes myself.
One dish that stood out to me in particular and which I am keen to get your thoughts on is Timpano. This dish is served on Christmas Day in Tucci’s household. It is a baked drum (hence ‘timpano’, from the word ‘timpani’) of pastry-like dough filled with pasta, ragù, salami, various cheeses, hard-boiled eggs and meatballs. I cannot quite see how all these ingredients fit together, and according to Tucci some hate it and others love it, like marmite. While, I doubt I will be trying this myself any time soon, it was nevertheless very entertaining to read about. It’s a bit hard to imagine what this dish looks like, so I’ve included a picture:
I will leave you with that perplexing image. Do check out Taste by Stanley Tucci, it is a brilliant read and I would recommend it to any- and everyone, whatever your taste (ha! I did it again) in books.