OMG A BOOK CLUB! It’s been a couple of weeks, did you miss me? Of course you didn’t. Well you may wish I’d skipped another week because today we are going to plow through ‘White Jacket Required: A culinary Coming-of-Age Story’ by Jenna Weber of Eat, Live, Run. Hooray! Or not.
First Impression: Who cares, look at my shoes.
Wasn’t that exciting? And now, the book.
Chapter 1 is ‘Origins‘. Jenna tells us how she had a hissy fit at a restaurant when she was 5 because she didn’t want to eat off the children’s menu, and ever since she “was officially classified as a foodie by the grown-ups around me”. She forces the point by going into how she was always a unique child because while other kids “were eating peanut butter on white bread” Jenna was “nibbling…brie”. Then she goes into the life stories of her parents in an effort to explain why her mom did all the cooking. She says at age 9 her mom enrolled her little kitchen prodigy in a summer cooking class for kids, and she includes a list of her childhood friends who did the class with her. The class was taught by tall Asian woman, and all that summer she and her friends would hang out at each others’ houses and cook. She attempts awkwardly to tie all of this in with her love of Laura Ingalls and her American Girls pioneer doll. Anyway, she grew up and moved to Charleston and said unlike “some of the college girls I knew” she “never really fell prey” to eating disorders, because she’s such a foodie you know. Anysmugs, she ends the chapter with a recipe for linguine in clam sauce.
Chapter 2 is ‘Make It Happen‘ and she starts right off by mentioning she lived in Paris for a summer after college. Then she moved in with her parents in Tampa. She starts yammering about her boyfriend Rob and how they met, and how he’s older than her, and they were “polar opposites”, but then for some reason her next sentence is about sharing a bathroom with her teenage brother.
So she got on teh intarwebs and looked for a job, but didn’t find one right away, and she hated working in retail. So one night her mom was like well you love to eat and write so “make it happen”. So Jenna decided to go to culinary school, but culinary school is expensive. But Jenna decided going to culinary school would give her the authority to write about food, which is what she wanted to do. So she slept on it and researched it online the next day. This chapter closes with a recipe for her mom’s spaghetti sauce.
Chapter 3 is ‘Fact Finding‘. Jenna visits Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in…Orlando. She says she is disappointed because it’s not a stone chateau full of chefs carrying trays of croissants, and I’m like…it’s Orlando, girl. The place is behind a burger joint, what did you expect? Anyletdown, she takes a moment to judge the outfits of her fellow students (“baggy jeans and wrinkled polo shirts”) and then lets us know that the tour guide finds her idea of becoming a food writer “neat” and that the tour guide’s accent was very Panhandle. Which makes me mutter “PANHANDLE STYLE!” under my breath like Jenna Maroney did when she beat a fake Elmo with her high heel.
Then they walked around and tried some of the food made by the students, and suddenly she’s talking about pulling out of the parking lot and calling her childhood best friend. This kicks off a weird rambling paragraph about this best friend with a bunch of background info that serves no purpose other than helping her meet her word count. Then we are treated to two pages of them having lunch at P.F. Chang’s which is well known for being THE lunch place for foodies. Then two pages of boring “what have you been up to” conversation, of the kind that permeates every high school reunion ever.
Anyway she spent weeks mulling over culinary school and finally went with her dad (wait, what, why) to sign her enrollment papers. Then it’s pages of getting school loans and textbooks and culinary school cooking junk, before suddenly her childhood friend reappears to ask Jenna if she thought she’d end up with her boyfriend Rob. Thus begins another pages long brain dump of Jenna babbling about Rob and how they “have a lot of fun together” but Jenna doesn’t know who she will “even be in the future”. She ends this chapter by saying her future was “unwritten” and then provides a recipe for Girls’ Night Turkey Burgers.
Chapter 4 is ‘Working Girl‘ which is all about Jenna’s quest for a job. She wanted a “nice, safe hostess position” that would allow her time for school and going back to Tampa to visit her family and boyfriend. Dare to dream, I guess. So she pulls in to some food shack and tells the owner she is going to culinary school, and he wants to know wtf she wants a hostess job instead of a cook job. Jenna replies that she’s only going to culinary school to become a food writer, basically making it clear she didn’t really have any interest in sweaty hard food prep work in the real world. But she managed to get a part-time hostess job anyway, even after hemhawing that she’d rather not work weekends. Because everyone knows the first rule of looking for a job is to tell the hiring person all the things you don’t want to do.
At this point she is roommates with her childhood friend, and there’s a paragraph of them discussing their work hours for some reason. She starts at the food shack and makes friends with the other hostesses, and tells us one of the hostesses got engaged which prompted Jenna to wonder when her own engagement would happen. Since this is after her saying she doesn’t know if she even sees herself with her boyfriend one has to wonder who exactly she was expecting a proposal from, but ok. The chapter ends with a recipe for turkey meatloaf.
Chapter 5 is ‘Running On Empty‘ and she starts off this chapter by declaring she’d “never had a weight problem at all”, ya know, in case you thought she was running off some cooking school pudge. Then it’s more conversation with her roommate and honestly at this point the book may as well be called ‘Tuesdays With Helen’ because nobody needs to read so much banal college girl discussion. Anyjogs, she finds after a few weeks that she doesn’t really love running but it makes her sleep better so she enters a marathon. Then she got shin splints and blisters. This kicks off page upon endless page of her going to the doctor who tells her it’s shin splints and just run through it, and after a few more painful jogs Jenna decided eff running, and made herself a self-care potato pancake. The chapter ends with a recipe for “Potato Pancakes For The Blues”.
Chapter 6 is ‘Oui, Chef!‘ and it’s about starting culinary school. Evidently on the first day her instructor singled her out to ask her why she was there, and she replied with a bunch of crap about how she is a writer and studied writing in Paris and wants to be a food writer. She claims her instructor said he hates restaurant critics and that he would “like to fry ’em all up” and that’s how he felt about her, too. He announced he would refer to her as “the enemy”. Poor Jenna suffered indignities like nail inspections and having to hem her own pants and being told to practice her cutting skills at home, and found that culinary school “was more than just frosting cupcakes”. Then we have more Conversation With Helen and a recipe for pasta and pesto.
Since there are 22 chapters, all of them about 4 pages long, I’m going to make a drink.
Chapter 7 is ‘Make Them Feel Like You Care‘ and Jenna begins by saying the burns and cuts and unmanicured hands that came with culinary school made people give her “odd stares” which she assumed meant everyone thought she “had a cutting problem”, and that “always made for interesting conversation”. Anysensitives, she went in to work and her boss told her she needs to make the customers feel like she cares about them. This upset Jenna because her culinary instructors were also meanie meanertons, and between them and her boss she felt “constantly…up in arms”. Then it’s pages of her fellow hostess rubbing her tummy and telling her it’s ok and the boss is actually nice, and Jenna tries to be more personable with the customers. This somehow circles back to her explaining yet again that she wants to be a food writer rather than a cook because she “could hide behind my laptop and dodge the grease, the yelling, and the pressure”. She was yanked out of her introspective reverie by her boss yelling that if she didn’t have anything to do she could clear some tables, and poor mistreated Jenna gritted her teeth and bussed some tables. But it was worth it because at closing the boss thanked her. The next two pages are more Conversation With Helen and a recipe for gingerbread cookies.
Chapter 8 is ‘Knives Out‘ and Jenna tells us she went into meat class and immediately met someone named Cat, who told Jenna “you’re a skinny one!”, which made her feel she and Cat “would get along just fine”. She says by now some people had dropped out, “mainly girls”. At line inspection one of the instructors told her “You’re pretty skinny” which leads her into some aside about how she couldn’t be a vegetarian because she liked a ham sandwich in Paris, and adding that her instructor said he fails vegetarians. She talks about cooking and eating an oxtail which was grody to the max. She worked hard for the next three weeks but her heart just wasn’t in it because she didn’t like cutting and butchering meat, even though she liked to eat meat . Guess all those Laura Ingalls books glossed over how pioneer folk put meat on the table. But she managed to pass the class, with a B-, and that was good enough for her.
Chapter 9 is called ‘Home For The Holidays‘ and there’s more Conversation With Helen about how they are both like totes ready for holiday break. Jenna was starting to rethink culinary school because it’s not what she thought it would be, presumably because it’s difficult and nobody was massaging her feels often enough. But she says culinary school is the best way for her to have street cred as a food writer. So she gets home and her teenaged brother immediately takes off to a friend’s house because everyone knows family crap is super important to teenagers.
She finds some recipe box that belonged to her great-grandmother and launches into how all her recipes for pastries and cookies made up her mind – she was going to switch to the cronuts and cakes program at culinary school. See, she doesn’t really like chopping carrots or carving animals. Why should she do it? It’s not like that stuff is important in the world of food or food writing, right? Bakers gonna bake, etc. Her mom tried to tell her that a general culinary degree would make it easier to get a job and isn’t that more important in the long run than just being happy right now? Well Jenna was all wtfevs Mom, I don’t want to be a chef anyway, and Mom said she was proud of her no matter what. Then she muses about how she wished she and her brother were better friends, and went to bed dreaming about pastry class. We get another linguine recipe at the end.
Chapter 10 is ‘Moving On‘ and dives right into more Conversation With Helen, this time about how Helen is quitting her schooling and moving back in with her parents while she figures out what she really wants to do with her life. Jenna is destroyed because she couldn’t afford the apartment alone and had never lived by herself. Jenna tries to talk her out of leaving but Helen’s parents are willing to cover her while she finds her bliss, so she’s set on bouncing out. Jenna tries to be supportive because no one should ever have to experience unhappiness or do something they don’t like, so Jenna starts learning to make flour based foods. Jenna made biscuits and took some home to eat in her room while Helen packed up. The chapter includes a recipe for biscuits for those of you who have never seen the side of a Bisquik box.
Chapter 11 is ‘Breaking Bread‘. Helen has moved out but promised to keep paying her share of the rent, and Jenna discovered the life changing magic of leaving dirty dishes in the sink when you live alone. She started her first class called Bread 101 and not-so-subtly implies she has the yeasty hots for her handsome instructor. Unfortunately she let her yeast touch some salt during her practical exam and wound up having to eat a chunk of flat sadbread at the command of Chef Handsome. But she got a C, so, yay for passing. Then we get a recipe for whole wheat pizza dough.
Chapter 12 is called ‘Written In Chocolate‘. I can already tell this is going to be another pointless rambling chapter when she starts off with how Uncertainty Boyfriend Rob took her to an engagement party and it ended with a bunch of tension “that had recently been plaguing our relationship”. Basically Rob is 8 years older so all of his friends are done with school, established in their careers, going out and drinking and getting engaged and married. But Jenna was busy making chocolate croissants and goo-goo eyes at Chef Handsome. Different life stages and all that. And then there was her teenaged brother, who, unlike other 18 year olds, had begun experimenting with beer and possibly pot, and Jenna racked her brain trying to find a way to get him back on the right path.
Then we get the Lord Of The Rings length version of making a bunch of pastry and I’m sorry but I don’t need a paragraph’s worth of Gluten Free Girl style description of pouring crap into a mixer. But her dad liked the macarons and they transported Jenna right back to Paris, so please enjoy her recipe for raspberry rose macarons at the end of this chapter.
Chapter 13 is ‘Piece Of Cake‘ and it’s more tiresome over-description of baking. Now it’s wedding cake class and apparently one of her classmates was a Disney groupie, and she “questioned her taste”. Anycakes, she had to make a wedding cake and it was half her grade, so the chapter trudges on about researching wedding cake styles and decorating and fondant and more remarks about Disney Groupie being indignant because the instructor wouldn’t let them wear headphones in class. Then there’s a weird aside about talking to Uncertainty Boyfriend and how perfect their arrangement was, what with her living alone and him being an hour away, and they never talked about the future. I’m just going to make a guess that they break up at some point because that’s how that eventuality usually begins. The chapter closes with a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake.
Chapter 14 is ‘The Claw‘.