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Currently living in Brooklyn, Stewart Lee Allen has also called California, Kathmandu, Sydney, San Cristobel, Calcutta and San Francisco home. When not lounging about a cafe in a far-flung corner of the globe, he has worked as a grape-picker, theatrical director, bathroom attendant, grave-digger, punk musician, smuggler and, of course, a writer. He is the author of the award-winning fiction collection The Art of Rape as well as his acclaimed history of coffee, The Devil's Cup.
Using the seven deadly sins as a framework, Allen (The Devil's Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History) explores a plethora of foods that have been shunned throughout the centuries and banned by cultures around the world. After opening each chapter with a menu featuring dishes "appropriate" for that particular sin, the author serves up the various reasons why such foods as tomatoes, chocolate, and potatoes have been feared, scorned, or restricted. Allen adeptly draws from a range of disciplines, including biology, sociology, history, religion, anthropology, and literature, for examples to illuminate the individual food tales. Readers will devour his writing, which is infused with a wickedly subtle sense of wit. A brief selection of historical recipes adapted for the modern-day cook and the occasional personal travel tale from the author are mixed among the book's many entertaining stories. Perfect for public libraries. John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"When I pluck a few leaves [from my little basil bush] for my tagliatelle, I make sure to scream obscenities at its fuzzy little head just like the Italians used to." Unaware of basil's complicated past, some cooks might use the herb with carefree abandon, but Allen, author of The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee, knows better. When it arrived in Europe from India around the fourth century B.C., basil came wrapped in a tale of fatal passion, which eventually morphed into the belief that a person who smelled the herb would go mad and curse up a storm. Allen's conceit is to take dozens of such tales and categorize them as one of the seven deadly sins: the section on "Lust," for instance, looks at the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; the section on "Sloth" covers the potato and its supposed tendency to turn the Irish into lazy fornicators; the section on "Blasphemy" recounts how 16th-century Catholic priests roamed the streets of Madrid sniffing for Jewish cookery. While the historical and cultural links between food, sex and religion make for fascinating reading, Allen's structure is forced at times: it is difficult to understand why Allen places France's obsession with bread and class in the section on "Sloth." The book's tone flip and entertaining seems geared to the casual foodie, but its breeziness is often frustrating: Allen devotes only three pages, for example, to the potent trio of food, lust and homosexuality. Cooks may find Allen's unusual assortment of recipes from around the world as well as his recommendation on where to find the world's best potatoes (and it's not Idaho) to be the best part of the book. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
* Allen's range of anecdotes is so varied and offbeat that is makes for a fascinating book. -- Jane Jakeman Times Literary Supplement * His book is a finger-buffet of travellers' and fishermen's tales associated with food and food taboos, loosely chapter-bound by the Seven Deadly Sins... If we are, as the 18th Century food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin first suggested, what we eat, then Allen is a strange and adventuresome man. The Times * Food factoids, whimsy, mad opinion, history and hearsay tumble across the pages of In The Devil's Garden... Here, Allen's anecdote-packed, gonzo writing style swashbuckles between the badly behaved European aristocrats who like to take a cup of jasmine-scented chocolate while watching infidels being burned alive to the "harlot-princess-slut divine, dominatrix bitch" Madame du Barry, who seduced Louis XV with a mountain of luxury. -- Jen Moir Daily Telegraph * Brilliant Independent