Hungry by Darlene Barnes

Synopsis of Hungry by Darlene Barnes: Newly arrived in Seattle, Darlene Barnes stumbles on a job ad for a cook at the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington campus, a prospect most serious food professionals would automatically reject. Naively expecting a universally appreciative audience, Barnes finds a more exasperatingly challenging environment. But her passion for real food and her sharp tongue make her kitchen a magnet for the brothers, new recruits, and sorority girls tired of frozen dinners. Laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, Hungry offers a female perspective on the real lives of young men, tells a tale of a woman’s determined struggle to find purpose, and explores the many ways that food feeds us.

Hungry by Darlene Barnes is a memoir about her experience as a fraternity cook, there are some hilarious examples of the type of stories you’d expect from a job like this. The book is deeper than that, though. I was struck by what an important part of their family she became, and found many of her stories incredibly touching. And beyond the personal stories, Hungry delves into the ins and outs of being a chef.

In the first couple of chapters, Barnes comes across a tad… opinionated? sanctimonious? … when it comes to food. I have to admit, it was kind of grating. But as I read on with a more open mind and warmed up to her personality, annoyance was replaced with respect and fondness. Darlene Barnes knows her stuff. She’s passionate about food, and she does her job with the utmost integrity.

Hungry isn’t about spouting off platitudes or legalistic views about “good food.” Barnes offers insights into her thought process as she navigates the changes she makes in the frat’s kitchen. She offers up easy changes anyone can make, and encourages readers to be more deliberate about their food choices.

There are recipes throughout the book! Sadly, I have minimal skills in the kitchen, but I would read these recipes and think, “Hmmm, that’s not so hard” or “Wow, I could totally do that!” Most recipes were pretty simple, useful (the salad dressings: so easy!), with ingredients easy enough to find.

Barnes doesn’t have an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to good food; instead, she shows us how small steps can lead to major changes. I felt empowered by the end of the book, and was even motivated to look for a good (and not overpriced) farmer’s market in my area (which was a success!).

This is an inspiring, enjoyable memoir that will be of interest not only to foodies, but to anyone who would like to incorporate more fresh food into their lives.

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