You must be careful when reading this book. You might end up with a shopping list that suddenly includes good vodka, Valtellina cheese, and bushels of fresh tomatoes. I read it on a Sunday afternoon, snacking enjoyably throughout, and had a deeply relaxing time.
Tucci is just as funny, smart and interesting in Taste as he is on his excellent TV show Searching for Italy (https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/stanley-tucci-searching-for-italy-restaurants/index.html). He gives an enjoyable account of moments in his life through food, including hilarious dialogue with his family, right the way through to a surprisingly relatable account of being stuck indoors in London with his kids during the first lockdown. Aged about six, watching a food show on television, his mother tells him that the presenter is cooking a duck. He says “A duck?!!!… From a pond?” His mother says “I guess so. I don’t know”.
Dotted throughout are hungry-making recipes. Achievable cocktails accompany grand epics like the timpano (as seen in the movie Big Night), which turns out to have been a source of both joy and stress in the Tucci household over a run of Christmases. Jay Rayner has a smashing time cooking it with Stanley Tucci though.
Fans of Big Night and Julie and Julia will find cheerful behind the scenes gossip here. Tucci namedrops with abandon, which is the only possible way to do it with style. Ryan Reynolds, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Marcello Mastroianni and endless friends from the world of food pop up. Taste is both thoughtful and sweary, one of my favourite combinations.
I agree that battered family cookware can be heirlooms, as Tucci notes. There are often things that we associate strongly with the important cooks in our lives. A friend’s mum always made toffee in the same tin: it had hammer marks where years of toffee bashing had occurred. These things are precious.
Tucci’s account of his cancer, which leads him to have terrible trouble with food and eating during his treatment and recovery, is moving and important. That food for him is about connecting with others is clear throughout the book, and his deprivation of this key aspect of life during his illness hurts. His joy at surviving and being able to get back to eating with the people he loves leaps off the page.
I suspect that many people will buy this lovely thing for other people this Christmas. Do this by all means, but read it sneakily yourself first. It’s like being on a sunny food holiday with a generous and entertaining friend. We have signed copies!