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Originally published Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 7:02 PM

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Book review

'Spoon Fed': Kim Severson's memoir of food writing and recovery

In "Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life," Kim Severson tells the story of how she overcame alcoholism and became a nationally respected food writer. Severson discusses her book Monday, April 26, at Seattle's University Book Store.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Author appearance

Kim Severson

The author of "Spoon Fed" will discuss her book at 7 p.m. Monday at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E. Free (206-634-3400 www.bookstore.washington.edu)

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'Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life'

by Kim Severson

Riverhead, 242 pp., $25.95

One of the finest reporters covering food culture today, Kim Severson recalled being a job candidate at the San Francisco Chronicle, an enviable food-writing gig in one of the top wine regions. She didn't let on during the job interview that she's an alcoholic.

She didn't share her own doubts, such as how can a recovering alcoholic be a serious food writer without imbibing? She even got drunk during the week she was interviewed.

The title of her memoir, "Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life," answers the question of how Severson, now a food writer with The New York Times, overcame her obstacles without the crutch of gin .

It's warm and funny, a breezy read from a writer who got her start here as a proofreader for the Seattle Weekly and then a metro reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune.

A lesbian, Severson writes about her struggles with her identity and with alcohol. But mostly, she writes about the life stories of eight women who became her source of inspiration: her mother, Anne Marie Severson, and culinary luminaries Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters, Leah Chase, Ruth Reichl, Edna Lewis, Rachael Ray and Marcella Hazan.

A clever marketing hook with name droppings, maybe. But Severson's story is sincere.

Wine, cocktails and beer play prominent roles on the contemporary American dinner table. But Severson realized that personally and professionally, she didn't need a wine pairing to enhance a meal. "Food is really quite lovely all on its own."

The traits of being a good food writer? The answer isn't in the bottle. It's understanding the science of food and how ingredients "interact" with another. It's building "a catalogue of food memories" to explain how a good chocolate tastes different from a bad one.

Severson learned some life lessons from those "Kitchen Goddesses," while writing for newspapers in San Francisco and New York City, arguably the top two culinary cities in America.

Author Cunningham, a recovering alcoholic, showed Severson that "no matter how badly you stumble, you can start over." Through slow-food pioneer Waters, she learned to persevere and work hard. Through Reichl, former New York Times restaurant critic and former Gourmet editor, she learned to stop comparing herself with the most popular girl in school and to be herself.

Because being Kim Severson isn't bad either.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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