Stanley Tucci is a chameleon. Turn on any film from a range of genres and his face is bound to pop up. Regardless of these artistic capabilities though, ask anyone whose age falls within the millennial generation and Mr Tucci is famous for just one film and one film alone. Gaylord’s memory for names is appalling (forget a sieve, it’s more like a hula hoop) and every time I’ve mentioned Stanley over the last few weeks, I’ve had to repeatedly remind Gaylord he was “the guy from The Devil Wears Prada.”
That film for me and so many others my age is Stanley Tucci’s tour de force and I had completely forgotten his turn as a French aristocrat under a powdered wig in A Little Chaos, his complete physical transformation in The Lovely Bones, and his appearances in Spotlight, Maid in Manhattan and Captain America to name a few. He’s been slyly drip-feeding us through the screen for almost 40 years, and before we knew it, he became a household name and one who my dad loves to remind me now lives in Barnes in London.
So what did I think of Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci?
Chatty and light-hearted as we can only hope Stanley Tucci to be, Taste is essentially his thoughts on a page, haphazardly structured into a rough chronological order, reading like a lucid stream of consciousness. He will routinely go off on tangents, self-consciously drawing attention to his wandering mind and age, and will dedicate chunks of a chapter to his thoughts on ragù and which pasta is suitable for which sauce (pages I have bookmarked for reference) along with many mouth-watering recipes in the middle of anecdotes on his childhood. This, along with asides to ‘talk to the audience’ makes Taste the most theatrical food memoir I’ve ever read.
His slapdash structure was so intriguing that each turn of the page meant a multitude of possibilities awaited. Combining his worlds of film and food he writes short comical scripts of his wonderfully mundane life (it’s so refreshing to know world-famous actors can also be quite boring) which he scatters throughout like tasty crumbs, breaking the prose and conjuring an image of his rowdy Italian grandma storming around a Broadway stage.
The fact that the structure was one of my favourite parts of Taste is not to say the story itself isn’t any good, however (ugh please forgive the ‘however’!) at points throughout my read I put the book down and was disinterested in picking it back up. There are lulls in any story and at those points a change in tone is urgently required. In the case of Taste, this happened at the end, and while this was incredibly effective and moving (which I will get to shortly) it happens far too late in the book.
Meanwhile, Stanley’s accounts of his childhood meals and cooking on his TV show are entertaining, but they are far less introspective than what I’d want from a memoir. Often, submerged in this detailed and unnecessary stuffing, I found myself convinced he wouldn’t have gained a book deal if he wasn’t Stanley Tucci.
Stanley’s love of food is so blatant it’s almost aggressive; he basically writes ‘I live to eat’ on every page, and well yes, you wouldn’t have written a food memoir if you didn’t. Please tell us something else, something we don’t know. This he does fulfil which is important for ‘celebrities’ to do as his audience is expecting a window to peer into his private life, whether he likes it or not. Why else buy the book? Stanley is not known as a recipe writer so why would a potential buyer choose his book for recipes?
We want gossip. Gossip sells.
One of my favourite examples of this is his comparison of film caterers from around the world. Filming in England, Iceland, the USA, Italy and France to name a few, Mr Tucci is a well-travelled man but that doesn’t always mean well-fed. This is an anecdote only Stanley as an A-list actor can provide, along with another involving Meryl Streep and a sausage the shape of a “horse’s cock”.
People who’ll pick up Stanley’s book must be curious about his life. I certainly am and one of my big intrigues (I swear to God I’m not a stalker although as I said my dad does like to remind me where he lives) is the fact he married Emily Blunt’s sister, Felicity. This he divulges later in the book (hurrah!) and describes one of their first dates plucking pheasants, an irregular past-time for most, but one that forged their union. For the particularly nosey, he even includes their wedding menu (thank you Stanley!).
In my opinion, that last third of Taste was the best, so yes you might have to haul yourself through it as he waffles – for example, there is too much detail on the restaurants of 1980s New York which honestly is interesting only to the people who can actually remember it – however, in my opinion it is worth reaching the end.
In the final chapters he throws the reader into his home life starting with the pandemic. As an out-of-work actor he was his young children’s caregiver. Then, after this jolly chapter which raised a fair few chuckles out of me, he lays his trap, a sudden black hole which had me gasping and reading with more urgency than I had the whole book.
The chapter gave the book’s title a whole new meaning as he experienced the devastating effects of illness. His new repulsion for food and flavour and smell is in stark contrast to the gastronomic delights of the rest of the book, and the struggles of his growing family at the time are only the more painful for his family’s history. The situation’s poignancy was beautifully captured, and this made me at last view Stanley as a food lover above and beyond an actor who is dappling in a different industry, as many of them do (looking at you Natalie Portman’s vegan shoes).
Should you read Taste?
If you’re a fan of Stanley Tucci’s work, are a film and actor buff, and a food lover, I’d certainly recommend Taste; despite my grievances I’ve found myself quoting good old Stanley, and I feel like an expert on his life now which I quite like. Plus, I loved his references to merry old England, his current-home (as I should know, I’ve mentioned it enough times).
For that, I will give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The best food in Taste
Taste is an Italian food bible. Nestled amidst the anecdotes are regular recipes, mostly for pasta which I and no doubt many readers hardly need an excuse to try. I could eat pasta for every meal if it was more socially acceptable. My ear-marked recipes were:
- Stanley’s now-famous courgette spaghetti which he ate on the Amalfi coast.
- Pizzoccheri, a dish made with trepidation in Northern Italy and he describes its cheesy goodness with almost sexual fervour.
- He paints the most idyllic imagery of outdoor feasts, one including a paella cooked over a fire in the Algarve, and another when he and his family rowed out to an island off the coast of Maine, taking with them fresh lobsters and an enormous stock pot. There his father-in-law would boil the lobsters in sea water along with corn on the cob all to be eaten with butter and salt. This image encapsulates the whole message of the book.